Does domestic violence spike in southern Utah during the holidays?

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — Advocates to end domestic violence in southern Utah say that home is not a safe place for a significant portion of the community.

In the past five days, 12 people have been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in Washington County. Jacob Klein, 23, of St. George, a man whose family members say has mental health and drug abuse issues, was arrested Sunday after police say he attacked his elderly grandparents with the intent of killing them both.

Officials at DOVE Center in St. George, the only 24-hour agency in the area to provide safe shelter and advocacy to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, explain the dynamics that drive the violence have a lot to do with the power of isolation made increasingly more salient amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If the abuser is able to keep the victim isolated and cut off from contacts from their healthy support networks and resources, then there is a much greater hold on the situation and easier path to maintaining control,” executive director of DOVE Center Lindsey Boyer said. “With domestic violence, a loss of employment is also a high-risk factor for lethality.” 

DOVE Center advocates tell ABC4 News they anticipate an increase in requests for services during the holidays, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in southwestern Utah. Wednesday saw a single-day high with 363 new coronavirus cases reported in the 5-county district that includes Washington, Iron, Kane, Garfield, and Beaver counties, according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

DOVE Center communications manager Markee Pickett says the agency has received 887 hotline calls since June 1st, reaching a record in September with 185 calls. The rate has slightly decreased since then, as staff received 133 and 102 hotline calls in October and November respectively, Pickett said.

“Although the amount of hotline calls we received in November decreased, the average length of calls increased,” Pickett told ABC4 News. “The average length in minutes that we’ve spent on the phone with survivors when they call our hotline number has steadily been increasing since August.”

The average length of a hotline call in November was approximately 19 minutes, which Pickett says suggests survivors are facing more extreme or complicated cases.

“Because of COVID-19, we’re seeing survivors facing more complex situations and additional barriers,” Pickett added. “This means when they initially call us, we’re spending more time with them on the phone to make sure we can get them the resources they need.”

DOVE Center officials say their total requests for shelter have also slightly diminished as well since September, declining from 55 requests in September and 48 requests in October to 34 requests in November. However, Pickett says that doesn’t mean the rate of domestic violence is necessarily decreasing.

Advocates say victims or survivors of domestic violence just may not be reporting due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in southwestern Utah and because of the stress from the holidays, when they say unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and increasing alcohol consumption may contribute to more violence.

Historically, DOVE Center officials say they see an significant increase in requests for services after New Year’s Day. Local experts say a lot of survivors experiencing abuse don’t see their value; therefore, shifting from recognizing they are in an unhealthy, toxic, and abusive relationships to deciding they deserve better is a “big jump.”

“Oftentimes, the best way we see that jump happen quickly is in support groups when you have someone telling a story and others listening and recognizing that it’s theirs,” Boyer said. “Then they can hear that person who’s progressed and wants out of the cycle. People deserve to be safe and be respected and be in a healthy, equal relationship.” 

If you need help or additional information, please call DOVE Center’s 24-hour helpline: (435) 628-0458

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