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Domestic violence spiking during pandemic, advocates finding resourceful ways to help

Home isn't always a safe place for Iowans. Some are now quarantined with their abusers and may not be able to be around someone who can help or report the abuse.{p}{/p}
Home isn't always a safe place for Iowans. Some are now quarantined with their abusers and may not be able to be around someone who can help or report the abuse.

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In the eight-county region served by the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, things are changing.

"In some of our areas we've seen a decrease in calls, in others its remained kind of a constant,” says director of community engagement Alta Medea-Peters. “However the needs of those calls is looking a little different."

There are still calls for safety planning, but those needs are being met virtually through video calls or by phone. Walk-ins are no longer allowed at the office at 1105 S Gilbert Court in Iowa City, though a 24-hour hotline is available.

Since COVID-19 forced Iowans to stay home there are more calls for emergency shelter over any other service DVIP provides.

“Home is not always a safe place for all Iowans,” Governor Kim Reynolds says during press conference April 15.

From home, some Iowans are finding ways to help.

“If you're in a situation where domestic violence is happening, that you can contact me for soap,” Danielle Stewart says of the lifeline she put out on Facebook.

A code of sorts, she says.

“Then in parentheses it says I don't actually sell soap."

Stewart posted the idea, which she got from an aunt, on a true crime page. She said others could borrow the idea, if they tweaked the item being “sold” to throw off any potential abusers who may catch on.

"You'd be amazed something as innocuous as that, people see it and think, 'You know what, maybe it's OK if I do reach out for help.'"

A potentially vital thread of communication when domestic violence reports are going up worldwide, according to the New York Times.

Since the COVID-19 crisis started, the Victim/Witness Division at the Linn County Attorney’s Office "felt like we were seeing an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases," says Linn County Chief Victim Liaison & Community Outreach Specialist Anastasia Basquin.

She compared cases filed during a 6 week time frame in 2019 to that same time frame in 2020.

The results showed that from March 1 to April 15, 2019 our office filed 35 Domestic Abuse cases, and from March 1 to April 15, 2020 our office filed 54 cases.

"This is a significant increase," Basquin says in an email. "An increase like this would not be expected since our number of domestic violence cases filed stay fairly consistent from year to year. I think some folks might be saying the number of cases are down because if you only look at the yearly totals you don’t see the increase. For example, when looking at the first quarter of 2020 (January through March) it seems that there was a slight decrease in the number of domestic abuse cases filed in Linn County compared to 2019. You can only see the increase when you isolate that 6 week period."

Similarly, Cedar Rapids Police looked at domestic violence reports, using the period of March 12 through April 12 and comparing over the last five years.

"Arrests this year are slightly below the 5-year average for domestic abuse incidents. The Police Department uses a Lethality Assessment Program which is a series of questions that officers ask the victim to see if there is immediate danger and direct them to appropriate resources. If there is an injury, the offender is arrested," says Public Safety Communications Coordinator Greg Buelow in an email.

Buelow says though incidents are up over last year, the department doesn't rely on one-year comparison, relying instead on trends and data over five-year periods.

Iowa's News Now also reached out to victims services in Johnson County for numbers on domestic violence and did not immediately hear back.

"If it can help one person, if it helps five people, OK great," Stewart says. "If it saves a life, even better."

Medea-Peters cautions anyone opening this line of communication that abusers often monitor messages, but says it can be an important thing to let victims and survivors know they're not alone. She urges people to check in with loved ones, keeping in mind it's not always best to leave; those living in an abusive situation know best how to stay safe.

"Just checking in on them and really letting them know that you're there," she says. "Even though you can't physically be there."

There are resources still available for anyone living with abuse or those looking for how to help someone in an abusive situation:

- Domestic Violence Intervention Program's 24-hour hotline is (800) 373-1043

- Waypoint offers domestic violence victim services, homeless & housing services, and child care programs. 24 hour resource & support line: 319-363-2093 or 1-800-208-0388.

- Iowa Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-770-1650 or Text: IOWAHELP to 20121

- Iowa DHS Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-362-2178

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- In Linn County: If you are a victim or a witness to a crime and you have a question about your case call (319) 892-6350, Monday - Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm

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