Connecticut police see an increase in domestic violencecalls during coronavirus stay-at-home orders

By Jesse Leavenworth; Hartford Courant; April 14, 2020
 
As much of Connecticut remains homebound due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence calls to police
have risen across the state.
 
The increase has not been steep, but victims’ advocates say isolation favors abusers and the situation could
worsen.
 
“When there is a confined space, it can be controlled by an abuser, and you add to that the various stresses that we
are all experiencing — all of that isolation and all of that stress leads to an increase in abusive behavior,” said
Mary-Jane Foster, president and CEO of Interval House in Hartford.
 
Domestic violence is about power and control, experts say, and, a key tactic of abusers is to cut victims’ contacts
with family and friends.
 
“Here’s a situation,” Barbara Damon, executive director of the Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain, said,
“where we’re all isolated from family and friends, so it’s just a toxic mix.”
 
Hartford police reported that family violence calls increased from 435 calls in March 2019 to 509 in March of this
year. City leaders recently announced that a four-member team of officers will be dedicated to investigating
domestic violence complaints.
 
Such calls concern any possible violence or threats by one member of a household against another or between
intimate partners who don’t live together, reports of protective order violations, child abuse and violence between
roommates. City officials said there probably are more victims who have not called police.
 
The state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has been gathering data from state and
municipal police, including the large cities, and has found a slight rise in domestic calls for service, agency
spokesman Brian Foley said.
 
For communities covered by state troopers, figures for the month of March over four years show domestic calls in
March 2017 totaled 97, rising to 120 in 2018, falling to 94 in March 2019 and up again to 105 this past month.
In another comparison, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence surveyed police departments across
the state and found an 8% increase in calls during the first quarter of this year compared with the first three
months of 2019.
 
The coalition of 18 agencies across the state also has found that contacts to Safe Connect, Connecticut’s domestic
violence resource hub, increased from 1,060 contacts in January to 1,284 in February and 1,314 contacts in
March.
 
Seven percent of those who contacted Safe Connect over the past two weeks expressed concerns related
specifically to COVID-19. The 18 domestic violence organizations reported increased needs for basics such as
toiletries and clothing, behavioral health services, food, needs specific to children, such as distance learning, and
housing needs, especially from clients who fear they could lose their homes because they are unemployed.
 
“We know that this period of social distancing presents increased opportunities for domestic violence,” CCADV
leader Karen Jarmoc said. “While we are not necessarily viewing a significant increase in requests for help across
various systems, we can see that COVID-19 is having an impact on the ability of victims to access basic needs,
which can certainly exacerbate an already abusive relationship. Advocates across the state are being creative and
flexible in helping victims access these critical needs.”
 
Experts say domestic violence centers on control. Because abusers may feel they have lost some control — of
employment and finances, in particular — they may seek to increase control in their relationships.
 
“While necessary during a public health crisis, stay-at-home orders make it even more difficult for victims to seek
support,” said Debra A. Greenwood, president & CEO of The Center for Family Justice, which serves Bridgeport,
Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.
 
“Social connectedness is critical for victims and survivors at a time like this,” Kai Belton, clinical director of Safe
Connect, said. “We encourage everyone to stay in touch with their friends and family, particularly if you already
suspect someone may be in an abusive relationship. Let them know that help is available 24/7 whenever they are
ready.”
 
“For folks who are experiencing isolation in homes with an abuser, it’s a potentially very dangerous time,” Damon
said. “I see the need for them to reach out and for neighbors and friends to reach out to them — you just don’t
know who needs a lifeline.”
 
Across the nation, calls to police and domestic violence hotlines have increased in many cities and towns,
according to news reports. USA Today reporters analyzed data from 53 law enforcement agencies around the
country and found calls for domestic disturbances and violence surged by 10% to 30% among many police
agencies that contributed data, the newspaper reported.
 
NBC News reported that of 22 law enforcement agencies that responded to a request for data on domestic violence
calls, 18 departments said they had seen a rise in March. Houston police, for example, received about 300 more
domestic violence calls in March than they did in February, a roughly 20% increase, NBC reported.
 
In China and Europe, domestic violence during the pandemic also has become a major concern. In Spain, the New
York Times reported, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18% more calls in the first two weeks
of lockdown than in the same period a month earlier.
 
Pope Francis on Monday called for prayers for victims of domestic violence, who are mostly women.
 
“Sometimes they (women) risk being victims of violence in a cohabitation that they bear like a weight that is far too heavy,” the pontiff said. “Let us pray for them, so the Lord grants them strength and that our communities support them along with their
families.”
 
Domestic violence services are accessible through CT Safe Connect at all hours. Call, chat and email at www.CTSafeConnect.org, or (888) 774-2900 ( texting is temporarily unavailable). CCADV says advocates can provide counseling, safety planning, risk assessment, assistance with a restraining order application, and a safe connection to a domestic violence organization for ongoing support and services. Bilingual services are available. All services are confidential, safe, free and voluntary.
 
Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com.
 

 
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