Reston, VA
Volunteers coordinate donations to Shelter House, Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in what some local advocates and law enforcement officials are calling a pandemic within a pandemic for domestic violence victims.

In Fairfax County, the Fairfax County Police Department reported a slight uptick in calls related to domestic abuse. Following statewide orders to remain at home when possible, the average number of monthly calls jumped from 158 in February to 191 in April.

Between then and July, that number remained near the upper 190s, with a high of 200 calls in July and 200 calls in September, according to FCPD data released to Reston Now.

More victims are coming forward with serious injuries than before the pandemic, particularly strangulation attempts and the types of weapons used.

Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have also presented new challenges for police officers who cannot have face-to-face contact with victims.

“It has been stressed from the very beginning of the pandemic to be aware of domestic issues that arise from long hours confined in a home,” FCPD Sergeant Hudson Bull said.

Officers adapted to the new safeguards but still respond to calls in progress utilizing personal protective equipment and social distancing to ensure victims of crime are safe,” he added.

The Fairfax County Department of Family Services reported a 28 percent increase in the number of monthly calls to the county’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline. Since then, the numbers have stabilized, according to Angela Yeboah, a project coordinator for the department’s domestic violence action center.

Emotional and psychological abuse also has been used as a tactic to keep victims in the home and fearful that if they leave, they will have limited housing and economic options due to the pandemic,” she said.

But at Shelter House, Inc., a Reston-based nonprofit organization that offers services to homeless families and victims of domestic violence, advocates have seen a different story.

The nonprofit organization reports a significant decrease in the number of calls since the pandemic began — a silence that concerned many service providers.

“We believe that this initial decrease was a direct result of stay-at-home orders and victims not being able to find safety from their abusive partner in order to reach out for help,” said Terrace Molina, the organization’s marketing and communications manager.

Now, Shelter House, Inc. is seeing case counts return to their previous levels. But the type of abuse is more severe as more victims enter the shelter. More serious injuries were also reported, Molina said.

She says victims need our support “now more than ever.”

High rates of unemployment and added pressures of children attending school virtually have produced more stressors for victims.

For victims who are in our emergency shelter or other programs, maintaining employment has been a challenge, particularly while also tending to the needs of children who are attending school virtually,” she said

Advocates hope to bring more awareness about the issue in light of domestic violence month, which happens in October.

Shelter House operates the county’s only 24/7 emergency hotline for victims of domestic violence, stalking and human trafficking. Individuals in need of help can call 703-435-4940. A domestic violence detective and a victim services specialist are also assigned to each district station. Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.

Photo courtesy Shelter House

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Local police are bracing for an increase in the number of domestic violence cases with a stay-at-home order in effect in Virginia.

The Fairfax County Police Department has seen an “incremental uptick” in domestic violence calls in the county.

“While not an alarming uptick, we’re seeing slightly more than what we experienced prior to three weeks,” Sgt. Greg Bedor told Reston Now.

In the last three weeks, FCPD has received a weekly average of 235 domestic-related calls, data show. Most incidents are reported over the weekend on a weekly basis.

The police department is attempting to triage calls by separating people from their homes and conducting interviews over the phone wherever possible, according to FCPD.

Officers are also making an effort to encourage individuals to turn themselves in if an arrest is warranted.

Although the county’s Domestic Violence Hotline has not seen any increases in reported incidents, county officials are encouraging people to seek help.

They say rising unemployment and the pressure of bounding bills “during the already stressful coronavirus pandemic could lead to an increase in domestic violence.”

“For victims of domestic violence, being home may not be the safest place, particularly as people are financially and emotionally stressed,” said Toni Zollicoffer, Fairfax County’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Services division director. “Victims and survivors of recent sexual and intimate partner violence face unique challenges during this period of extended social distancing and isolation.

Her office offered the following tips:

Call or Text for Help 24/7

Call Fairfax County’s Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline: 703-360-7273, TTY 711. It’s available for help 24-hours a day, every day.

If it’s not safe to talk, text LOVEIS to 22522 to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You also can online chat with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

As always, anyone who is in immediate danger should call 9-1-1.

Plan Ahead

There are actions people can take to prepare, including:

  • Be aware of safe rooms with locks and which rooms have doors or windows for quick exit.  Discuss these with children and other family members.
  • Make a list of safe contacts and emergency resources. Some people find it helpful to hide copies of important documents and safe contacts somewhere outside the home, such as buried in a planter or at a safe neighbor’s home.
  • Plan with kids and other family members if you can. Think about their safety options. Think of a place you can go or send other family members in an emergency or long term.
  • Arrange daily check-ins or code words with people you trust.

What You Can Do

“If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it’s more important than ever to check in with them,” said Zollicoffer. “For resources or information on ways to assist those you are concerned about, call the Domestic Violence hotline.”

We can all play a role in preventing domestic violence. Encourage people who are experiencing abuse to make a safety plan, call for help and guidance and let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Let them know you are there to listen, help and support them without judgement.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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A new Domestic Violence Action Center is now open in Herndon.

The center will offer advocacy services as part of the Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center (1086 Elden Street).

Before the domestic violence center opened this month, residents in the northwestern region of Fairfax County used the nearest domestic violence action center at the Historic Courthouse to meet with victim advocates. The new center opens up opportunities for victims of domestic and sexual violence to seek help from staff.

“A crucial component for engaging victims in services is access to the necessary resources available to them,” said Kevin Ochs, advocacy services supervisor for Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence Services. “We are proud and excited to expand our services and offer advocacy services in the Northwest region of Fairfax County and build upon our relationship with the community.”

Services will be available on Fridays only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Meetings with victim advocates are free and are offered in English and Spanish. Appointments and call-ins are welcome.

The Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center offers resources and programs to address the community’s social and economic challenges, improve community interaction, and provide support for academic achievement and the enhancement of parent engagement.

Here’s from about the Domestic Violence Action Center from the county:

The Fairfax County Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) is a comprehensive, co-located service center, staffed by county agency and community non-profit partners (see list on right), created to provide culturally responsive information and support services for victims of domestic violence and stalking, and their families, as well as to promote the accountability of offenders of these crimes through specialized prosecution and offender supervision.

All services are expected to begin on September 27.

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