Story by: TIM WILLERT
Incidents of domestic violence and child abuse are expected to rise in the coming days as families isolated by the coronavirus struggle to cope with fear and uncertainty, those who work to protect victims told The Oklahoman.
Closing schools and businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has people feeling more anxious and fearful, said Kim Garrett, CEO of Palomar, Oklahoma City’s family justice center.
“When families are forced to be isolated and their incomes potentially limited I think it’s going to create a lot more stress for families that are already volatile,” she said. “I absolutely think it could increase domestic violence and child abuse.”
Palomar serves victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and child and elder abuse. The center’s clients often are in crisis and seeking protective orders or shelters. Some are seeking referrals for attorneys and therapists while others are coming for victim empowerment and safety classes.
“If you’re quarantined with people for 14 days, it can escalate tension, even among healthy families, especially the fear of the unknown,” Garrett said. “We don’t know how long it’s going to be.”
Jan Peery is president and CEO of YWCA Oklahoma City, which provides crisis services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Peery said domestic violence is about power and control.
“Anytime a perpetrator feels like they’re losing control it’s most likely going to escalate their behavior,” she said.
Lost jobs, social isolation and disrupted routines only ramp up the anxiety.
“Any of those things that make people feel out of control, they’re going to seek to gain that control back,” Peery said. “They’ll do that by perpetrating violence against their victims.”
The YWCA operates a shelter, which is full, and provides services around the clock, including counseling. Calls for help have remained steady. About 15 of Peery’s employees work the phones at Palomar, which closed its building to the public last week.”I expect in the next couple of weeks … to see the violence increase and the calls and the numbers increase,” she said. Closing schools puts some children at a greater risk for violence because they may be confined at home with abusive parents, Peery said. “If you put children in the home where violence is taking place … it puts them at risk for a greater chance of abuse during that time,” she said.
Oklahoma has struggled with high rates of domestic violence. From 2013 to 2016, Oklahoma ranked among the six worst states for its rate of women killed by men in single-victim, single-offender incidents.
During the past several years, the state has seen improvement. Last year, the state tied for a rank of 20th. In the two previous years, Oklahoma ranked 11th and 15th, respectively. The rankings are based on data from two years before the report.
Offenders are typically male, Garrett said.
“The pathology is about power and control,” she said. “There’s so much unknown and uncertainty for a lot of us. They’re going to feel out of control and the way they utilize that is by exhibiting violence over their partners or their children.”
Palomar will still provide services to clients via live chat, telephone and website. The decision to close the building to the public because of outbreak wasn’t easy but necessary because some center partners and employees have immune systems at risk, Garrett said.
“It’s a terrible decision and it was not done lightly and I’m pretty upset about it,” she said. “It’s a terrible balance of how do you keep everybody safe.”
How to get help• Victims in Oklahoma County can call YWCA Oklahoma City’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 405-917-9922.
• Victims can reach Palomar by calling 405-552-1010 or 405-552-1004 or by visiting palomar.okc.org.• The Oklahoma State Safeline, 1-800-522-SAFE (7233), provides assistance with safety planning, crisis intervention, emergency shelter and advocacy to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, and can help individuals locate resources in their community.• The Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault offers a list of service providers throughout the state. Visit www.ocadvsa.org/get-help for more information.