Story By: Larry Devine
Shari Kastein, executive director of Family Crisis Centers, serving counties throughout northwest Iowa including Carroll County, is forecasting a post-coronavirus surge of calls for help from domestic-abuse victims.
Iowa’s current stay-home recommendations, shutdown of schools and businesses, job losses and financial stress likely are driving many homes over the breaking point, Kastein, who’s based in Lyon County, said in a recent interview.
Although there hasn’t yet been a large increase in calls, that likely will come once victims have the opportunity, she said.
“Anytime there’s a forced confinement — that can be a blizzard, that can be hot weather in the summer — and there’s already that power-and-control struggle or disproportionate level, we definitely do see numbers increase. We see that is a trend,” Kastein said. “Typically we see it for a few days or maybe a week in the summer, but now we’re over a month in Iowa where a lot of people have been confined.”
Family Crisis Centers’ March data did not show an increase in individuals reaching out for help. So far, April has brought a slight increase.
“We anticipate the increase in individuals reaching out for help aver COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and everyone gets back to ‘normal’ routine,” Kastein said.
She explained, “We find that many victims reach out to our advocates when they are at work or school. That is because they have access to a phone that cannot be tracked by their abuser, and there is not the risk of their abuser walking in while they are reaching out for help. With many individuals working from home, or not working at all, many victims no longer have a safe time to reach out to an advocate. Once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and people return to their normal activities, victims will have the opportunities to reach out for help.”
She added, “We really do see things kind of boiling or waiting until things are clear, so in essence we haven’t seen our storm yet. But we do expect that to be coming soon, or as soon as the storm passes as far as the COVID and people are feeling they’re able reach out. They feel they have more freedom to make phone calls and they’re not in confinement like they are right now.”
Kastein said Family Crisis Centers is well situated to handle the expected increase.
“Each victim or survivor will have different needs, and our advocates are trained and equipped to meet the needs of each individual,” Kastein said.
“We know domestic violence rarely stops for anything, and COVID-19 is not an exception. Individuals can reach out for free help from an advocate by calling 1-800-382-5603 or texting ‘iowahelp’ to 20121. Individuals can call or text any time of the day; advocates are available 24/7.”
Meanwhile, local law enforcement report differing domestic-violence experiences.
Carroll Police Chief Brad Burke said that from March 16 through April 9, after Gov. Kim Reynolds began issuing emergency declarations in an effort to curb spread of coronavirus, his department received seven calls for domestic-violence issues. From Feb. 1 through March 15, police received 17 domestic-issue calls.
“Statistically we haven’t had more calls than normal for it,” Burke said. “It’s that the thefts, traffic and all other calls have gone down, so they just stick out more. Statistically there are not more calls, but since there’s not much else going on either, they show more. When you have 10 calls a day, compared with typically 50 calls a day, they just stand out.”
On the other hand, Carroll County Sheriff Ken Pingrey said he’s seen more domestic-issue calls on his department’s daily logs.
“We always have domestic calls,” Pingrey said. “Whereas it might be one every three or four days, now we’re seeing almost one or two every night. Most of them are petty — yelling, arguing.”
Burke and Pingrey said the situations their officers or deputies encounter when responding to domestic-issue calls may range from loud arguments to physical violence.
“There are not a lot of arrests that come from them, because most times it’s not physical,” Burke said.
He added, “We typically intervene, separate the parties if we need to, talk to the people, figure out what’s going on, and see if we can help them get through it. … We try to separate the parties, give them time to vent, just try to help alleviate the situation, try to get them to separate to let things cool off, (suggest) somebody stay someplace else for the next day and see if that helps.”
Burke estimated Carroll Police’s overall call numbers have been down about 75 percent and traffic-stop numbers down about 90 percent.
“It’s been really, really quiet,” he said.
Officers have been using that time for extra training, equipment maintenance, deep-cleaning patrol vehicles and the office, and catching up on old cases and reports.
Pingrey said of deputies’ responses to domestic-issue calls, “First we always try to separate them. There are always two sides to every story. If there are no injuries, we usually try to get them separated for the night, have one of them stay at a friend’s or relative’s house.”
However, if there are injuries, Pingrey said, deputies are required to arrest the primary aggressor.
Pingrey said of the increase he’s observed in domestic calls, “This is no surprise to anybody. We’ve talked about this since day one, that there would be an increase in domestic abuse with people staying at home more together. Everybody in law enforcement is well aware of it. I hate to say it, but some people, if they don’t have a yard to work in or something else to go do, they just don’t have the coping skills, and there are going to be eventual problems for some of them.”
All kinds of factors come into play in domestic tension, including family finances, drug or alcohol abuse, and anxiety about the future, he said.
Pingrey said calls to the Sheriff’s Department are down about 75 to 80 percent; however, he added, “We’re getting a lot of civil papers in that we still serve. The deputies are still out patrolling, still out stopping speeders and other traffic violators.”
Family Crisis Center’s Kastein said the center’s advocates may see a sequence of problems in a home, growing from verbal to emotional to physical or sexual.
“Do I think the COVID-19 virus is a reason? No,” she said. “But is it providing a very isolated area for things to happen? Absolutely. Domestic violence, sexual assault, all those are power-and-control issues. … It’s giving the perpetrator or batterer the opportunity at their beck and call. They have everything they need right like they like it, which is really scary for all our clients.”
Kastein said the current situation of couples and families being shut in together has disrupted violence victims’ escapes, such as running to a neighbor’s home or moving into a shelter home.
“Many of the programs, the shelter services in Iowa, can’t take people into shelters very easily because of the social distancing, so we’re looking at getting folks some facet of independent living — an apartment or hotel or motel,” she said.
Children experiencing abuse, too, are suffering and in greater danger because of schools’ shutdown the rest of the academic year. At school, children are around mandatory reporters and safe individuals who are looking out for them.
“Sometimes kids would love to go to school because they were free from the violence at home, the perpetrator,” Kastein said. “Well, they can’t go to school, so there’s virtually not an escape right now. So those concerns have risen — molestations, rapes, those things for anybody who’s a minor, developmentally disabled, anybody who’s confined or trapped in an environment where things were already unhealthy and the escape pattern you did have no longer exists.”