Quarantining and social distancing help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but home is not always the safest place for those living with a partner prone to violence.
Since March, organizations worldwide have warned about how the stresses presented by the pandemic may result in spikes of domestic violence cases around the world.
Within the last six months, the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office has noted an increase in calls reporting domestic disturbances compared to the same time frame of previous years. Major Ronnie Roberts, Louisa County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy, says COVID-19 may be contributing to these numbers.
“When you think about the crises every community is going through and the stress it brings onto the household with their children being pulled from schools, people working from home, and, in some cases, being let go … it can push emotional buttons for a lot of families,” he said.
Calls regarding domestic disturbances are categorized into three groups depending on if there was a weapon involved, a physical assault or a verbal altercation. Louisa has experienced an increase in all three categories, compared to the same time period in the previous three years (see graphic on page 2).
Of the three categories of domestic disturbances, reports of physical domestic violence have increased by 24 percent since 2019, from 207 to 257 cases; verbal abuse by 7.5 percent, and cases involving weapons by 62 percent.
Shelter for Help in Emergency, an organization based in Charlottesville that provides services to victims of domestic violence, has seen an increase in calls to its help hotline and people seeking in-person services.
Sarah Ellis, fundraising and development coordinator at Shelter for Help, says that the first few weeks of the pandemic were quieter than usual, but they started to hear from more people after that. In the past six months, Shelter for Help has served 25 individuals from Louisa, 15 of whom sought residential services. Ellis said that this number seems high compared to the 30 individuals from Louisa it served in 12 months between July 2018 and June 2019.
Both Shelter for Help and the sheriff’s office have seen an increase in reported cases of domestic violence, though the actual number of cases may be higher. Ellis says that domestic violence is already significantly underreported, and that the pandemic and isolation of quarantining, compounded with the nature of living in a rural community, may deter people from reporting cases of violence in the home.
“If you’re in that situation and the abuser is there, it’s harder to reach out for help if they are watching you, listening to the calls you make and monitoring your every move,” Ellis said.
Krystal Jones is an author from the Zion Crossroads area who recently published a book, “Regained Worth,” about her experience staying in an abusive relationship for eight years and how she got out of it. She says that men and women in abusive situations are likely to stay quiet and that the emotional toll of abuse can impact a person’s ability to speak up.
“When someone verbally abuses you, they’ll tell you that you’re not worth it … And that takes your self-esteem down,” Jones said. “The mental and emotional impacts [of this] really stay with you, even if you can get past the physical part and the bruises go away.”
Neither Ellis nor Jones are surprised that the lockdown has led to escalated home situations as a result of heightened stress.
“If you’re already living in a difficult and abusive situation, being locked down with that situation certainly isn’t going to improve it,” Ellis said.
Those who experience domestic violence may consider reaching out to a family member or friend, a hotline like the one offered by Shelter for Help, or the local police. Whether it’s calling the police, a family member, a friend or a shelter, everyone’s solution will be different. For Jones, it was getting a restraining order on her abuser and moving with her children in the middle of the night so she could feel safe.
For those experiencing domestic violence, Roberts, Ellis and Jones encourage victims to find someone to talk to and make a plan for themselves.
“Perhaps there’s a friend or neighbor who’s coming by that people can slip some kind of message to them or be able to get in touch with us,” Ellis said. “We’re going to give them help on safety planning tips on how they might work their way out or make a call to the police or somebody. It’s really what’s the most effective in that person’s individual case.”