Domestic violence is expected to increase under the COVID-19 emergency as people shelter in place, lose jobs and deal with mounting stress.
But domestic violence services are reaching out to people experiencing abuse letting them know help is available.
Even before Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a "safer-at-home" order on March 24, DAIS (Domestic Abuse Intervention Services) saw an increase in calls to its 24-hour Help Line 1-800-747-4045.
“Knowing that we are in a pandemic, that we are at the beginning of a recession, and people are sheltered at home—that is a huge recipe for some very bad things to happen,” said DAIS Executive Director Shannon Barry.
DAIS offers the 24-hour helpline, emergency shelter, crisis response, children’s programs, support groups and legal assistance for domestic abuse victims.
Barry said a majority of helpline calls during the last two weeks have been about safety planning; people thinking about where they would go if they needed to flee violence or establish a safe room in their own home.
Barry said COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders can unintentionally help enforce the power of abusers.
“Isolation is already a key component to domestic violence,” Barry said. “Abusers use that very strategy to control their victims, so they have this whole new tool kit available to them to maintain that isolation.”
Loss of income for a person who is being abused also creates problems and having kids at home can add an extra level of stress during a domestic violence situation, Barry said. She said requests for emergency shelter goes up during the summertime because kids are at home witnessing violence. Situations are similar now under the COVID-19 emergency order with children at home.
“It can be very stressful for a parent being abused to navigate kids’ needs and safety needs at the same time,” Barry said.
DAIS offers emergency shelter with cases rated on the severity of the abuse. Barry said the DAIS shelter is full now but the organization has funding to get hotel rooms for people being abused. She said 2/3 of DAIS emergency shelter residents are children.
With the Dane County Circuit Court records office closed to the public, restraining orders can be e-filed. Barry said DAIS legal staff can assist with the process, including technology help.
People facing domestic violence are also asked to find support and reach out to others, including family, friends and even neighbors.
“Do you have a code word you can text to a friend or have a neighbor you would be comfortable sending a signal to if things escalate,” Barry said are some important things to consider.
DAIS has resources for family and loved ones of people who are being abused, with suggestions on how they can help. Barry suggests that non-urgent requests be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Domestic abuse numbers are expected to go up based on previous historical increases, Barry said. During the 2008-2009 recession, domestic abuse-related deaths increased by 43 percent, according to a report from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Barry said another concern is that gun sales have gone up to record highs in March compared with data from last year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
“We know that when there are firearms in the home, the lethality of domestic violence increases,” Barry said.
Domestic abuse is not limited to physical abuse, Barry said. It can include emotional, verbal and economic abuse, all marked by a pattern of power and control. The COVID-19 pandemic may amplify these power dynamics.
“Domestic abusers will escalate their tactics when they start feeling a loss of control and we are in an environment right now where no one has control,” Barry said.
Law enforcement is focused on reaching out to people experiencing domestic abuse.
“We encourage people to call if they are in a domestic abuse situation. We don’t want people to hesitate to call 911," said Dane County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office Elise Schaffer.
The Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne emphasized that crime victims, especially those of domestic violence, will continue to have resources available, including a Crime Response Program 24-hour line (608) 376-0164.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced last week that $58,000 in emergency shelter funding has been given to DAIS. Barry said that will help DIAS maintain services, with United Way funding cuts and the delay of the organization’s fundraising events.
Barry said funding and the cooperation of all agencies to help people facing domestic abuse is important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are really at the front lines because safety is a basic right and a basic human need, just as important as food and shelter,” Barry said. “Now we have people who were vulnerable, who are even more vulnerable now.”
Where to get help
If you are experiencing an domestic abuse emergency call 911. Other available resources include:
• Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, Inc. DAIS Helpline (608) 251-4445 or 800-747-4045
More info at www.abuseintervention.org
Non-urgent requests email@example.com
• National Domestic Abuse Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233