During the COVID lockdown, the phones at the Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence were oddly quiet, while both the national hotline and law enforcement were seeing an uptick in calls
“During the lockdown in March, we were getting almost no calls,” Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence Director Robert Dalton said. “We got one or two crisis calls a week which was exceptionally low, I think there was one week we didn’t have any.
In talking to local law enforcement and other shelters, Dalton and his staff were expecting a surge in need once the lockdown eased and they were correct. These are exceedingly stressful times given the uncertainty during the pandemic and now the political climate. It stands to reason that this tension may cause tempers to flare and abusers to lash out. The working theory on the reduced call volume during the lockdown was that people were calling 911 when there was an immediate issue. If the abuser didn’t leave the home to go to work, then the victim wouldn’t have the opportunity to make or even plan an escape.
“We were anticipating more than a typical average amount of folks who may not have normally sought out our services or would due to the effects of COVID and the lockdown,” he said. “It started in early July and we’re seeing it still. Our calls are up 30-40% over our normal and the cases we’re getting are needing shelter services even more than normal. It’s more of a surge in demand than even we were expected.”
The percentages of calls needing children’s services are higher than normal as well, according to Dalton, so they’re having to be creative in housing them.
“We’re serving, on average, 50-60 more people at a time than we typically do with shelter services,” he said. “A lot of the stories we’re hearing is that the abuse is more severe and it’s more physical abuse than we typically see. Often the mental and emotional may be more severe than the physical in some cases, but what we’re seeing since COVID is severe physical abuse. Some of them are telling counselors that the domestic violence had been there for a while but that they felt like it was manageable, so to speak. Then with COVID and being stuck at home, economic issues and other stressors popping up, it took their situation to a level where they had to make the choice to leave.”
They may have gotten out in time anyway, Dalton added, but the behavior of the abuser became much worst. There was really no buffer away from the abuser.
Amy’s House, Lincoln County’s only shelter for domestic violence victims, is small to begin with and now they’re full to the brim.
“We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that everyone that calls us gets somewhere safe,” Dalton said. “More typically, if we’re full, we recommend other DV shelters in the area, but now every shelter’s full. It points out to us how much we need a new shelter. COVID has been a major change, but it shows us how much domestic violence is occurring in our community. We’ve long suspected this need was bubbling beneath the surface. Our current shelter, while it’s good and it works, it’s really outdated and too small.”
Typically, donations have been down due to COVID, according to Dalton, fundraising events that normally happen throughout the year have been cancelled and Amy’s Closet has not been open as many hours. He’s been able to secure some state, federal and CARES Act funds to help with this surge and he’s been kept extra busy writing grants. United Way of Lincoln County and other local organizations have donated extra funds as well.
“We know we live in a good community that cares about us,” Dalton said. “We’re going to keep this going as long as we need to. We really don’t know when this is going to end. We know that the economy is still bad and stress levels are still high. There’s some thought that this could be our new normal which presents a lot of new issues. We thought the surge would only be for a couple of months, but it’s not slowing down.”
The Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence operates a 24-hour domestic violence crisis line at (704) 736-1224 where victims can access information about domestic violence services.