Kanawha County has not seen a noticeable increase in domestic violence incidents since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, officials and the Charleston YWCA say.
But that could soon change, depending on how much longer emergency stay-at-home orders are in place in the county, said Julie Haden, program director of the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program.
Over the weekend, law enforcement responded to 62 domestic violence or disturbance-related calls, according to Rick McElhaney, deputy director of operations for Kanawha County Metro 911.
McElhaney said while that’s not an abnormally high volume of calls, it wasn’t a slow weekend. It’s usually considered above average when numbers of calls reach into the 70s for a weekend, he said. Likewise, an amount under 50 calls for a weekend is considered below average.
Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said although other departments across the country are seeing an uptick in domestic violence calls, locally that hasn’t been the case.
“So far, we haven’t seen the spike in domestic violence other parts of the country have witnessed,” Rutherford said. “But there’s no guarantee we won’t.”
Calls to the YWCA domestic crisis line have decreased as well, Haden said, but the organization is attributing that to people not having a safe physical space in their homes to make those calls.
She said during the first two weeks of the emergency period, the organization noticed the decrease, but knew that some people who contact the YWCA regularly weren’t reaching out.
“They’re are a lot of people out there trying to make safety calls ... or to see if we have space if they’re thinking about leaving; those are a lot of our hotline calls,” Haden said.
Instead the program is seeing increased traffic on its encrypted chat hotline. The anonymous messaging program, at the top of the YWCA’s website, is a much safer way to conduct sensitive conversations during the pandemic period, Haden said.
The longer families remain shuttered in their homes, and the longer some families continue to wait for financial relief from the government, the likelihood of domestic abuse incidents increase.
“One of the No. 1 goals for perpetrators is to isolate people, and so COVID-19 is doing the work for them. People are losing their jobs, tensions are high,” Haden said. “What started out as ‘OK, this is going to be some time together, and we can work on things,’ quickly deteriorates because there’s a lot of anxiety going on out there.”
“I think we will see an increase,” she added. “[But] I don’t think it’s happened yet.”
At the Emergency Operations Center at Metro 911, McElhaney said he prepares a spreadsheet every morning for city and county officials to monitor trends in violent crimes during the pandemic. So far, nothing has jumped out for domestic abuse cases.
Domestic violence protective orders are still considered emergency proceedings by the courts, Haden said, and she encourages those who need an order to reach out to the YWCA for help obtaining it.