Story By: Megan Cloherty

Montgomery County, Maryland, is experiencing an increase not only in the number of domestic violence cases but also in their severity since the COVID-19 stay-at-home order went into effect in March.

Concerned victims may not know support resources remain open, so the county launched an information campaign last week.

Since the campaign’s launch, Montgomery County support agencies have seen a spike in calls for help.

“The domestic violence unit from the special victim’s investigation division of the police department, their numbers in terms of the serious domestic violence cases that they are seeing are up 33%,” said Debbie Feinstein, chief of the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Family Violence Unit.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, schools and food banks in the county are helping disseminate information cards and stickers, printed in both English and Spanish. There are plans to add more languages.

Participating restaurants are including the cards in takeout and carryout food orders. Liquor stores are putting stickers on their Plexiglas and printing the information on the sales receipts in English and Spanish, Feinstein said.

Agencies seeing increased reports include Child Welfare, Adult Protective Services, the Crisis Center, the Abused Persons Program, the Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program, the Family Justice Center, the forensic program at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center and Montgomery County police.

“Everyone has seen an increase in the numbers since this campaign launched … by way of example, the Family Justice Center website. The hits on its website more than doubled on the day of the launch,” Feinstein told the Montgomery County Council during a virtual meeting of the Board of Health.

However, child abuse numbers are down. Feinstein fears it is not because the abuse has stopped, but reporting has become more difficult without children having daily in-person connections with mandatory reporters, such as teachers.

The county is working with Montgomery County Public Schools to see if teachers can develop language to gauge whether a student is in an unsafe situation at home, while they connect with students and ask how they feel.

However, kids are not the only people in danger. Elder abuse and partner abuse are also concerns.

“I would encourage our community members to be looking out for their neighbors,” Feinstein said.

All county resources, including its shelters, remain open. If you’re concerned about someone who may be in an unsafe situation, the county suggests the following:

  • Continue to reach out to them by phone or computer if it is safe to do so.
  • Remind them that you believe them, it is not their fault and this is a very difficult
    and scary time.
  • Help them create a safety plan.
  • Tell them that services are still available.

Services available include:

  • Family Justice Center — 240-773-0444 or safe@montgomerycountymd.gov. Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. — 5 p.m. Help with safety planning, protective orders, legal assistance, counseling.
  • Montgomery County Crisis Center — 240-777-4000 (24 hours). Help with crisis situations and shelter placement.
  • District Court Commissioner’s Office (24 hours). 191 East Jefferson St., Rockville. For filing  protective orders.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (24 hours) — 800-799-7233
  • thehotline.org (to chat)
  • Text LOVEIS to 22522

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