Even though most of Spokane has been stuck at home for the past several weeks, the Spokane Police Department hasn’t seen the influx of domestic violence reports that officials and advocates expected.
About this time last year, Spokane police had arrested just over 100 people on suspicion of aggravated assault related to domestic violence.
That number, like other data points, was nearly the same as of Saturday. Officials are concerned that the stay-home order is exacerbating the problem of underreporting domestic violence.
“I did think that we would see increased numbers more quickly than we are seeing,” said Annie Murphey, executive director of the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition.
“Because we know that the abuse is still happening,” added Murphey, noting the potential for increased and more serious abuse as a result of pandemic-related stress.
Spokane County has the highest rate of domestic violence in Washington, nearly double that of the state average. National and state studies show domestic violence is likely underreported on a large scale.
Stay-home orders have created concerns that victims could be stuck in closer proximity to their abusers, Murphey said. And those people could be taking care of young children, homeschooling or working from home.
“It’s hard to get enough space to make a safe call,” said Murphey, who also noted how teachers are no longer able to observe students and report potential abuse.
In an attempt to combat the issue, the police department, city of Spokane and Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition partnered to send victim resource flyers to each eligible city utility customer. That amounts to about 75,000 homes and 10,000 commercial properties.
If people don’t need to access those resources, Murphey said she hopes people will inform themselves to help others, give the flyer to someone else or display them in prominent places.
The cost of the project was covered by the Spokane Police Guild and the Innovia Foundation’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Funds.
The flyer lists two dozen organizations, hotlines and services for victims of domestic violence and child abuse.
“This flyer empowers victims by giving them options,” said Spokane police Special Victims Unit Sgt. Jordan Ferguson in a statement.
Throughout the pandemic, the courts and service agencies have stayed busy filing protection orders and helping victims, Murphey said.
“Some of those really vital resources in our community continue no matter what is happening,” Murphey said.
The state health department predicts behavioral health symptoms worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a surge in aggression, law-breaking and substance abuse for the next three to six months.
Murphey said she expects domestic violence to be a part of that surge.
She also predicts, as the state begins to open up, delayed reports of family violence will come in from March, April and May. Those could come from victims who find the space to report or when children reconnect with mandatory reporters, such as teachers and summer camp counselors.
“I do wonder about the effects we’ll be seeing weeks from now, months from now and even years from now about the reports of what people experienced during this time,” Murphey said.
Murphey said she also is thinking about the long-term outcomes of the pandemic on child welfare and future family violence. That’s a part of the reason the flyer includes childcare resources and information about coping skills for caregivers.
“If we’re going to get upstream, we have to be thinking about children and the cycle of violence,” Murphey said.
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