In light of statewide recommendations to remain at home in order to slow the spread of coronavirus, domestic abuse calls have been on the rise over the last two weeks, according to the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Sgt. Keith Horrocks said the calls have been increasing since January. But the recent jump — 33% over the last two weeks — coincides with the state asking people to limit social gatherings and stay at home as much as possible. Domestic violence advocates say that can put people in abusive situations at greater risk.
“The last thing we want to have is this type of crisis where we're having to deal with social distancing and being at home, but then to have somebody stuck without a way out of a bad situation,” Horrocks said.
He said the spike is concerning, particularly as it seems to be part of a larger trend happening nationwide. Stay at home requests put unique pressures on those facing an abusive partner or family member.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline said it’s hearing about abusive partners using the virus as a scare tactic to keep survivors away from their kids and families. Travel restrictions — making it harder to use public transportation or fly — could also impact a survivor’s escape plan.
And for shelters like the YWCA Utah, there is limited ability to house people.
“We are having to turn folks away with fewer people actually in shelter,” said Erin Jemison, public policy director for the YWCA Utah. “We were previously able to double up if needed, [but] we can no longer have survivors who are not family members living in the same room in the shelter.”
Jemison said her organization is currently housing 200 people, including 118 children.
She said they haven’t received a noticeable increase in calls yet, but are expecting them. And with some of Utah’s social distancing recommendations in place at least through mid-April, it’s less likely people will be able to transition out of shelter and open up space for others.
Still, there are other resources available, Jemison said. The YWCA has a crisis line available 24/7 to help survivors brainstorm ways to keep themselves and their children safe and find a place to go if they need to leave. It is also still allowing walk-up service at its Family Justice Center for now, though that could change with more stringent social distancing measures.
Free local and statewide victim advocate lines are also available. Horrocks said they provide crisis counseling and can help survivors navigate the criminal justice system.
And because of the current shelter-in-place recommendations, the police department can issue protective orders online or over the phone.
“It's not always the easiest situation to try to get out of,” Horrocks said. “We want them to know that they have partners willing and able to help them.”
- If you or someone you know needs help, call the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition at 800-897-5465.
- The Salt Lake City Police Department’s crisis line is 801-580-7969.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.
- The YWCA can be reached at (801) 537-8600.