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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House Call: Risk of domestic abuse is growing – why Spokane needs to be aware

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp arrive at the premiere of Depp's film "Black Mass" at the London Film Festival on Oct. 11, 2015. Free press advocates in Virginia are concerned that a libel lawsuit between Depp and Heard could set a bad precedent. The Virginia Press Association asked Nov. 8 to intervene in a $50 million lawsuit Depp filed against Heard, his ex-wife. Depp says he was defamed by an op-ed piece Heard wrote in the Washington Post in December 2018 in which she never identified Depp by name but referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Depp has denied abusing Heard and said the article clearly refers to earlier abuse allegations Heard made against him.  (Joel Ryan/Associated Press)
By Dr. Bob Riggs For The Spokesman-Review

When shelter-in-place orders went into effect in Washington, the focus was, and continues to be, curbing the spread of COVID-19. For victims of domestic violence, however, there is evidence showing more time spent at home correlates with potential for increased abuse.

According to the Spokane Regional Health District, Spokane County has some of the highest domestic violence rates in our state, accounting for nearly 25% of all criminal cases.

As we continue to adapt everyday life in response to the pandemic, it is important to raise awareness around the increased risk for domestic abuse and know where to find resources if you or someone you know needs help.

If you are currently experiencing violence or are in imminent danger, contact emergency services immediately. Instances of domestic abuse can include mental and emotional manipulation, financial control, physical abuse and even neglect.

Often, it can be a mixture of these happening concurrently. Equally as important as recognizing how abuse manifests is understanding who it can happen to and where it can occur. Domestic abuse usually happens in the victim’s home where the abuser is a close friend or relative.

In some cases, it might be in an assisted-living facility or foster home. While intimate partner violence is often associated with domestic partner violence, other vulnerable groups who can be victims include the elderly and children.

Many factors outside our immediate control can influence risk of abuse, including situations where an abuser takes drugs or drinks alcohol, has recently experienced job loss or a significant lifestyle change, has a history of violence or abuse or is under financial pressure.

According to the National Institute of Justice, intimate partner violence might increase when couples are financially strained, a prevalent issue in the wake of today’s layoffs and unemployment. Our shift to remote or “from home” lifestyles also has made it more difficult to identify signs of abuse.

For example, remote schooling this semester might mean fewer cases of child abuse are reported, as teachers are the most frequent reporters of child abuse in the country given their ability to spot signs of student malnutrition, wounds or bruises.

If talking to a safe friend or relative is not an option, telehealth appointments offer a way to seek resources. We have flexibility to set up these appointments during times when a person can plan for privacy to have sensitive conversations.

Further complicating the issue of domestic abuse is understanding how an abuser creates and leverages power. In addition to the financial, psychological or mental control, abuse might start as isolated episodes of physical violence that can evolve into a pattern over time.

In many cases, these patterns become cycles of repentance, resuming normalcy, then repeating the abuse.

There are resources that can help recognize windows of opportunity and safely navigate a way out.

Planning ahead by memorizing key phone numbers, securing personal documents and belongings and preparing living arrangements are all considerations when preparing to leave an abusive situation.

In the event you need to leave suddenly, having your personal items gathered and in a safe place can help you quickly exit to safety. Today’s global pandemic can make dark times feel even more challenging. Know there is hope and a way out.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, a full list of resources, that can provide guidance on how to safely move forward, is available at

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.