Leaders gauge domestic violence amid pandemic

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Many counties around the state have reported an increase in domestic violence and battery charges during the pandemic, but that has not been the case in Hancock County.

County officials looked into arrests reports for the months of March and April and found charges for domestic violence actually went down during the pandemic stay-at-home period compared with the same time last year.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department responded to 23 such calls for assistance from March 1 through April 30, 2019. The numbers are slightly lower, 21, for the same months in 2020, despite the fact people were asked to shelter in place for nearly two solid months. The Greenfield Police Department had more calls for service, but only two people were arrested in March and April on domestic violence charges, according to GPD figures.

Those modest numbers might be misleading, however.

Alternatives Inc., which works with victims of domestic violence in Hancock and five other nearby counties, has seen an increase in calls and incoming referrals. In March, there were 68 total domestic violence calls, said Madison Garrity, the victim advocate and program coordinator for Hancock County.

Out of those calls, eight people were referred to the agency’s outreach program, and 15 were already enrolled in the program.

In April, the agency had 75 total domestic violence calls for Hancock County. Ten of those people enrolled in the outreach program, and 12 already were participating in the program.

“I believe my numbers for May are shaping up to be even higher than April’s numbers,” Garrity said.

Alternatives’ services are voluntary, and they rely on referrals from community partners as well as word of mouth to make sure they are reaching men and women who have been victims of domestic violence.

“I expect my numbers to increase in the months to come, and I am here to support all survivors of domestic and sexual violence,” Garrity said.

While she acknowledges the stay-at-home order was a stressful time for many families, research shows domestic violence is all about power and control. While increased tension and anger play a part in domestic violence, Garrity said, she sees domestic violence as the root for a partner using whatever weapons they can to maintain power and control over their victim.

“During the pandemic, while many people were socially isolated in order to eliminate the spread of COVID-19, many victims of domestic violence were even more isolated, because isolation is one of the key tactics an abuser uses to control their victim,” Garrity said. “We saw that abusers used this time to try to control their partner’s every move, thus making it more difficult to escape the violence.”

Prosecutor Brent Eaton said that anecdotally, from what he sees day to day, his sense is the overall number of domestic violence cases is likely holding steady or rising slightly.

“Relative to other stuff there are certainly more, but that is likely a result of somewhat less rigorous enforcement due to the jail issues and concerns for officer safety with COVID-19,” Eaton said in an email to the Daily Reporter.

A look at his office’s domestic violence cases during the March to May window show there were 21 such cases in 2019 and 19 this year.

Capt. Robert Harris, public information officer for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, noted the county has likely benefited from relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases and has numerous programs in place to help those who are at risk.

“The proactive steps taken by our county commissioners, emergency management, health department, hospital, and everyone involved in the COVID-19 task force seemed to help us stay ahead of the game compared to other areas,” Harris said.

Some areas elsewhere have seen an uptick in family disputes, Harris noted. He attributes those numbers to families being stuck at home together; financial worries caused by breadwinners being out of work; and other COVID-19-related factors.

After noting an increase in domestic violence complaints during the first 40 days of the pandemic, Chief Jeff Rasche of the Greenfield Police Department said there were no increases in domestic violence responses from May 1 through May 14.

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People who need help escaping an abusive enironment may call:

24/7 Crisis Line: 866-593-9999

Alternatives Inc. Hancock County Office: 317-462-8777

Online: www.alternativesdv.org

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