CHEYENNE – Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are being asked to social distance themselves and stay home. For domestic violence survivors, this advice can turn deadly.
Fortunately, local law enforcement either haven’t seen a rise in domestic violence related incidents, or have recorded a very low increase in domestic violence calls. But domestic violence advocates say abusers use isolation as a tactic to continue their abuse.
Safehouse Services Executive Director Carla Thurin said isolation is already a tactic abusers use to victimize someone, and this pandemic is a way for abusers to continue or exacerbate that isolation.
“We need to keep in touch with our family and friends, and make sure they’re OK,” Thurin said. “And if they’re not, we need to tell them how they can get help, and they need to be able to call Safehouse.”
When the pandemic first started impacting Wyoming, Thurin said there was a decrease in crisis line calls. Now, Thurin said, it seems like more people are calling Safehouse, looking for help.
Safehouse is still operating at this time, Thurin said. She said they currently have 35 people at the shelter, and wouldn’t turn anyone away due to COVID-19.
She said if someone was in need of being quarantined, the shelter would look at getting that person a hotel room.
“But we do know that these kinds of times – added stress, added financial stress – certainly is a correlation to more problems, more violence. Some states are seeing an increase in homicides,” said Tara Muir, public policy director for the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
People in the community need to check up on those they’re worried about, Muir said.
She said the coalition is still open, along with all of its programs, for crisis calls. She added that there’s a big difference between going to the police and a community-based program. She said the community-based programs can protect someone’s story to an extent, and help someone weigh the pros and cons of their situation.
“The abuser is usually really talented at having every excuse in the book to say why he or she chose to use violence that day,” Muir said. “So economic – and their stress around that – can be yet one more excuse to throw out.
“They want everyone to believe that something has made them do it,” Muir added. “And we cannot, in doing this work, let them just have that be their reason and kind of brush it off. No, they’re going to continue to practice power and control and give rise to violence.”
Some domestic violence survivors have to leave in the middle of the night, with only the clothes on their back. Muir suggested that people can help domestic violence victims right now by donating to local shelters and organizations.
If someone doesn’t need the government stimulus check being sent out, maybe they could consider donating it to a domestic violence shelter, Muir said.
Sgt. Curtis Burch, a detective with the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department, said deputies are still making domestic violence arrests. He said for people who are quarantined with an abuser, law enforcement is still available for them. He said all the normal services are still available and operating 24/7.
“I recommend that they call close family or friends, they might be able to stay with us, even though there’s concerns about COVID-19,” Burch said. “That’s not to say that they should continue to stay home if they’re in a domestic violence situation or if it’s building up to be one.”
The Cheyenne Police Department is also still making arrests for domestic violence, Public Information Officer David Inman said. CPD said there were about 70 calls for service concerning domestic violence during the two-week period from March 16-31 when COVID-19 became more prevalent in Wyoming, compared to about 50 calls for service concerning domestic violence the two weeks prior.
Inman said it’s important to note that these 70 calls aren’t necessarily someone getting injured or arrested. He said domestic calls for service can range from loud arguments to physical assault.
“If it’s arrestable, they should be arrested,” Thurin said. “Because the victim is going to be in greater danger over and over again, with that person still on the streets and still able to get to them. We encourage (the victim), though, even if arrest wasn’t made, to call us because maybe we can help them with a family violence protection order or something to get immediate help.”