Domestic violence a secondary crisis during the time of COVID-19

By R. Hans Miller | Times Senior Reporter
Posted 4/29/20

With stay home order in effect across the Katy area, law enforcement officials and nonprofits that serve domestic violence victims are seeing a spike in abuse calls and demands for service, they …

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Domestic violence a secondary crisis during the time of COVID-19

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With stay home order in effect across the Katy area, law enforcement officials and nonprofits that serve domestic violence victims are seeing a spike in abuse calls and demands for service, they said. Being stuck at home with financial and emotional strains is taking its toll on the community, they said.

“There was a 27% increase of Domestic Violence cases reported compared to the same time last year. The reason appears to be the stress of the COVID-19, where families disagree about going out or staying at home, the loss of jobs and the stress from the lack of income, the fear of those family members having to go out to work and bring the virus back into the home,” said Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Tim Morris of the department’s Family Violence Division.

A legal process

When a report comes into the sheriff’s office, a patrol deputy is dispatched to the home and provides a “Victim Assistance Information” booklet to the victim which explains the investigation and prosecution process, Morris said. The pamphlet also provides contact information for resources such as the FBCSO Victims’ Services Liaison, Denise Gruwell.

From there, Gruwell assists the victim in explaining the process which may include obtaining emergency protective orders, working with the district attorney’s office and other steps to facilitate the safety of the victim and the investigation process, Morris said.

Victims may also be referred to a variety of services throughout the county including the Fort Bend County Women’s Center, Fort Bend County Women’s Shelter, social services and Katy Christian Ministries, Morris said. Out of county women’s centers, legal aid services and the office of the Attorney General may provide Crime Victim Compensation and child support services, Morton said. Anger management tools are also provided to the household, he said.

Survivors of domestic violence tend to be at continued and elevated risk of being victimized again, said Susan Hastings, director of Katy Christian Ministries Crisis Center which helps victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Reaching out for recovery

When the Katy Christian Ministries Crisis Center hotline rings, that’s the first step for KCM to get involved, Hastings said. She is concerned that calls have risen dramatically in March and April of 2020 compared to the same months the prior year.

“In March & April of 2019 we recorded 159 hotline calls,” Hastings said. “In March & April of 2020 so far, we recorded 218 hotline calls.”

Hastings said being constrained to stay home by various stay home orders and fear to go out in public where they might catch the virus are contributing factors. But so are several stressors that are the usual contributors to domestic violence but are exacerbated under the social conditions caused by the new coronavirus. These include loss of jobs, financial uncertainty, isolation and health issues.

Child Advocates of Fort Bend, another group helping victims of domestic violence said in an April 27 announcement that it had seen an uptick of child victim interviews by 20% between March 2019 and March 2020.

Once things come to a head and victims reach out to assistance, KCM has been able to provide them with face-to-face advocacy, counseling, crisis intervention, safety planning, shelter placement, legal assistance and other nonprofit partners, Hastings said.

“Katy Christian Ministries addresses the whole person, including their physical, mental and emotion health,” Hastings said. “We achieve this by providing four core programs to our clients; Social Services, Food Pantry, Crisis Center and resale stores.”

The nonprofit already has a hefty workload, Hastings said and the crisis is increasing that workload.

“Last year in 2019 we assessed and worked with 2,227 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Hastings said.

Reaction and recovery

Helping victims recognize and break out of the cycles they are in is important to eliminating the cycle domestic violence victims go through said KCM Executive Director Deysi Crespo.

“A lot of the times the victim does not even realize the impact it has already had in (his or her) life and -those around them, especially the children who then become secondary victims,” Crespo said. “Therefore, psychoeducation is an essential part of the process as we engage with the victims.”

Prevention can be difficult because people who are on the pathway toward a breaking point don’t always recognize it, especially in stressful times, Crespo said. However, KCM and other community resources such as pastors can provide counseling and help to interceded before things get out of hand, she said.

“I still would like to encourage those who recognize they are losing control during this time to reach out to their place of worship or any other church in our community. Spiritual health and connectedness are equally important. They can also get plugged-in with many counseling centers in our city or surrounding areas such (as) Martin Counseling in Katy, Houston Center for Christian Counseling, and many more counseling partners that our staff can guide (them) to.”  

Advocates are important for victims to have access to said CAFB CEO Ruthanne Mefford. The nonprofit offers advocacy through Court Appointed Special Advocates – or CASAs – that help minors navigate domestic violence issues. Providing services during a near-lockdown environment has been difficult she said.

“Fortunately for the children of Fort Bend County, we are better equipped to handle both the challenges of providing services digitally and the spike in the need for services than w were a year ago, Mefford said. “Our renovation included digital upgrades that have allowed our staff to more easily shift to working digitally and we have both the space and the staff to meet the increased need.”

Crespo said those looking to find out more about how they can help prevent domestic violence in the community can reach out to KCM at 281-391-4504 or via email at info@ktcm.org.

While the mitigation is important, all sources mentioned said contacting law enforcement by calling 9-1-1 if a domestic violence event is happening in your home or you think it may be happening nearby is important. Though, they would prefer to prevent the issues in the first place and break the generational cycle as children become secondary victims or later, perpetrators or adult victims.

“Change starts with the victim. Let's break the cycle of violence now to reduce the likelihood of children becoming the victims or perpetrators later on in their adult life,” Crespo said.

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