Domestic violence could spike as coronavirus keeps people inside, victims advocates say

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ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) – As the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, threatens to strand people inside as they’re asked to work from home or even face the possibility of losing their jobs altogether, police and domestic violence advocates say survivors potentially face an increased risk of violence.

ABC4’s Katie Karalis checked in with St. George Police and Dove Center, Washington County’s go-to domestic violence resource and shelter, to learn how survivors can manage their mental health and stay as safe as possible.

Thirteen people in Washington County alone were arrested on suspicion of domestic violence since Friday, including one incident of alleged rape as well as child abuse, criminal mischief, trespassing, and aggravated assault, according to police records.

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St. George Police Officer Atkin said it’s critical that survivors find people they can trust and lean on for support during this time to protect their mental health, including friends, family, or neighbors.

“I definitely think there could be a correlation in that spike as people are facing a lot more stress than normal, which can make someone snap,” St. George Police Officer Tiffany Atkin said.

“If you don’t feel like you can call on the phone but you can safely send a text message, you just send a text to 911 and our dispatchers are able to text you back,” Atkin added.

Domestic violence advocates tell ABC4 News abusers will use any tools, including a worldwide public health concern such as COVID-19, to exert power and control, making survivors and children now advised to stay at home more vulnerable.

Staff at the Dove Center, a center known to help survivors of domestic violence and rape in Washington County, wants the community to understand they are not alone and there is help in finding the courage to report the abuse amid COVID-19 concerns and visitor restrictions.

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“We at DOVE Center are taking this very seriously and we are also well aware of the potential increased risk to survivors when stress is high in the home when employment is at risk, and when they can’t access a support system and wen services are less accessible,” client services director Brenda Evans told ABC4 News.

“We are working closely together under the guidance of the CDC and the National Network to End Domestic Violence on ways to continue serving survivors, and with the use of technology, so victim support will continue to be accessible and our most critical services remain uninterrupted,” she added.

Staff at DOVE Center are recommending survivors come up with a safety plan, which could include setting up a code word with neighbors who are able to dial 911, find trusted friends or neighbors to lean on for support, or avoid stairs and unsafe rooms in the home, such as bathrooms or kitchens that tend to have hard surfaces and sharp objects.

While DOVE Center employees are reducing the number of people that come into their office and all community groups are canceled until further notice, they say they’re working to provide in-person crisis advocacy where possible and when symptoms of illness are not present.

To access shelter or speak with an advocate call DOVE’s 24-hour helpline: 435-628-0458 and access resources on the DOVE Center’s website.

Free and confidential help and support for victims and survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence is available 24/7: 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or udvc.org. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, or in an emergency, please call 911 immediately.

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