Local Authorities Report Rise In Domestic Violence Indicators
For victims of domestic violence, recent stay-at-home orders make it more challenging to report abuse. And while it’s difficult to measure the impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse cases, WHQR reports New Hanover County is seeing an increase in some key indicators
Domestic violence is about power and control. And abusers are using the isolation of the pandemic to their advantage.
Mandy Houvouras is the Direct Services and Outreach Director for The Open Gate, an organization that provides shelter and services for survivors.
“We understand how complicated this is and that abusers are very, very manipulative, and they’re very good at making someone doubt themselves and making someone feel like they don’t have options and they don’t have resources.”
According to Houvouras, from mid-March to the end of May, calls for support have doubled -- and sessions with clients have increased by 38 percent, compared to the same time last year.
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is also seeing some troubling signs. Gina Jones is a detective who’s been investigating domestic violence cases for 5 years:
“So last year for 2019, from March to May, we had 7 domestic violence protective order violations; this year, we had 27.”
A violation of a protective order means that a victim of abuse received a court order preventing the abuser from contacting them for a year -- and if a survivor feels they are still threatened, they can renew the order even before it expires.
As to why there are more of these violations, Detective Jones says the stay-at-home orders issued during the pandemic are a factor:
"I think generally just the fact that they’re all isolated and they’re quarantined in the same place is definitely going to heighten reports and incidents."
And there’s another unintended consequence of the pandemic -- with the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in jails and prisons, there are cases where judges have allowed some recent offenders to bond out. Mandy Houvouras of The Open Gate:
“If someone is able to bond out quickly when there has been a significant assault and a pattern of violence that puts that survivor in great danger.”
To deal with that problem, Detective Jones of the Sheriff’s Office contacts the survivor when an offender is going to be released from prison.
Again Mandy Houvouras:
“Sometimes on the outside we imagine that when you commit these crimes, you go to jail and we throw away the key, and that’s not the reality, and no one is saying that should be the reality, but, it’s really important that [...] we have safety plans and measures in place to help protect someone when they’re in that most vulnerable time.”
And if the offender does try and get in contact, Detective Jones says the survivor needs to file a report:
“If they have proof and say, ‘Hey I took this picture, I was in my house and he was riding by my house, this is his car', or text messages, voicemails, Facebook posts, those we can obtain a warrant for a violation that way.”
And Detective Jones says, even if the survivor doesn't have hard proof, filing a report creates a record of the offender’s behavior that can be used in court.