As more families stay home during COVID-19 pandemic, SLCPD sees uptick in domestic violence-related calls

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The Salt Lake City Police Department has seen a 33 percent rise in domestic violence-related calls over the past two weeks. Officials noted the numbers have been increasing since the beginning of the year, but then showed a dramatic uptick in the past two weeks.

“People are in a stressful situation. They’re inside now with their families, their roommates, whatever the case may be,” said SLCPD Detective Greg Wilking. “They’re wondering about their jobs and financial situations. Their kids are out of school, so they may be worried about daycare too. We think the increase may be a result of that situation.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that many who have called into the hotline recently cited the COVID-19 virus as “a condition of their experience.”

“Isolation is one of the most common tactics that an abuser will use. With the social distancing guidelines to stay home, we’re sometimes forcing people into very close proximity in a very controlled way with people who may have a history of abuse and aggression,” said Jenn Oxborrow, Executive Director for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. “There may not be a safe way for them to reach out for help. It’s something that worries me a lot.”

Oxborrow said they’ve also seen an uptick in calls on their state hotline.

“Collectively, our programs and UDVC respond to about 43,000 crisis calls per year. We saw that volume go up immediately when the governor announced different protocols to improve safety and reducing spread across the state,” she said. “It continues to go up.”

St. George Police recently stated in an interview with ABC4 News that any increase of domestic violence related-calls could be highly correlated with people staying in due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“These are challenging times and people are under a lot of stress. Unfortunately, this stress can spill out into relationships,” said Chief Mike Brown. “It is never acceptable to perpetrate violence against another. We encourage people to find healthy ways of handling their stress and to think twice before acting in anger.”

Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous types of cases that law enforcement can respond to. The increase in these types of calls adds more responsibility for their officers, Det. Wilking said.

“We don’t necessarily know what we’re going into in terms of the domestic incident or the health of the individual we’re dealing with. It adds stress and exposure,” he said. “Clearly, if it’s gotten to the point where we’re being called and have to intervene, there’s serious feelings involved.”

Child and the elderly are also at risk for domestic violence.

“We will be taking a close look at these types of cases, following it, and mapping it. We want to spot these trends and identifying what we can do to combat it. Obviously, a lot of that is education and talking about it is part of that education,” said Det. Wilking.

Oxborrow said as a community, it’s easy to overlook the issue of domestic violence during an emergency or crisis of this magnitude. But emphasizes that one out of three women in Utah will be impacted at least once in their lifetime.

“Our state leaders are really wonderful in Utah. I spoke with Senator Christensen last week to make sure that as Gov. Herbert was planning for the COVID-19 pandemic, that we were on their minds as an essential service,” she said.

So what can you do? SLCPD encourages residents to be mindful of their neighbors at this time and to keep an eye out for any violence.

“Neighbors, families, and friends, please keep an eye out and notify us if you suspect there is a case of interpersonal violence,” Brown said. “We are here to help.”

“We’d rather show up and have it be nothing than have it be something much more serious down the line,” said Det. Wilking.

Oxborrow said family, friends, and neighbors should also look out for risk factors such as someone who may be living with a person with a history of violence, aggression, and abuse. Other factors include someone who may be a suicide risk or has access to lethal means, such as firearms.

“Another thing we can do if we can recognize those risk factors sooner is to try deescalation. If things start to ramp up, have a clear plan or agreement with your family about how to have a cooling off period or defining what a safe space is. Also, develop a code word and make a plan with your children so they feel like they’re safe too,” said Oxborrow.

SLCPD encourages anyone who has experienced domestic violence to call 801-799-3000 and ask to speak with a victim advocate or call their 24-hour hotline directly at 801-580-7969. All services are free and callers can get information anonymously. 

Individuals can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the Utah LINKLine at 1-800-897-5465 for confidential assistance.

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