Domestic violence, abuse calls on the increase compared to last year
By BRITTANY FHOLER
As people shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the concern for victims of domestic violence and child abuse is growing.
Copperas Cove police officers responded to seven calls over Easter weekend dealing with family violence and arrested four individuals. According to the arrest affidavit for one individual, a male, he told police he was stressed due to being out of work and staying at home since the shelter in place order had been declared. He stated he was “cooped up in the house” and had difficulty paying bills. Of the three calls in which no one was arrested, charges were not filed.
Copperas Cove Police Department’s Public Information Officer Lt. Kevin Miller said that the number of calls for that weekend had increased compared to the same period of the previous year- three more cases this year compared to last year- but couldn’t definitively say whether COVID-19 was the reason behind the increase.
Aware Central Texas, a local organization that provides services to survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking, has seen an increase in calls as well.
Based in Belton, the organization serves Bell, Coryell, Lampasas and Milam Counties and is a nationally recognized Child Abuse Prevention Center (CAP Center) through the National Exchange Foundation.
Executive Director Misty Biddick said that the organization’s 24/7 hotline has seen a “dramatic increase” in calls during the last six weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a busy month prior to COVID-19, the organization would typically see anywhere from 40 to 70 unduplicated calls for service.
For the month of March, they provided comprehensive services to 41 victims. As of April 16, the organization had served 42 victims for the month of April.
“We’re having to be very innovative in what we do for clients because we are dealing with the fact that shelters are no longer taking new cases,” Biddick said.
The organization is having to reach out as far as Austin, Round Rock and Waco to place individuals.
The organization has also seen the number of requests for assistance on protective orders double this month.
“So, as people are quarantining and sheltering in place, being with the perpetrators, there is some increased issues going on,” Biddick said. “Violence is increasing right now, and you’re talking about when an individual is stuck in a home with someone that typically would go to work where they’re able to call and get assistance or reach out to agencies, they’re not having the ability to do so.”
With schools closed for the remainder of the year, the risk for child abuse also increases.
Biddick explained that when school is in session, a child would typically have a trusted adult at school who is able to check in on them.
“Our fear, of course, is when you have children that aren’t in contact with adults that there is the potential for them to be abused,” Biddick said.
She said that the actual number of cases probably won’t be known because the child doesn’t have the ability to let someone know now.
Usually, there is a higher number of child abuse cases for children ages 0 to 5 that go unreported because they don’t have anyone checking on them, Biddick said.
The organization offers its parenting classes and anger management classes as a way to prevent the abuse from happening. For families that are at risk, Biddick said the organization tries to get and work with them in order to put in various protective factors.
“Now you have kids 0 to 17 that are home all day and not being seen by other trusted adults in the community,” Biddick said.
She encouraged teachers who are teaching their lessons online to reach out to their students whatever way they can.
With the need for social distancing, the organization has made all of their programs available to the public and moved them to be online through Zoom.
Aware Central Texas is also providing support in the form of diapers, baby wipes and formula and also offering contactless delivery of food items to victims, according to Biddick.
“We deal with a lot of people that have no transportation and this has really hit them hard,” Biddick said. “Things are difficult to find in stores and if you don’t have the means to travel to four or five different places during the day, it may mean that you go without.”
Aware Central Texas is available for families that aren’t experiencing family violence or child abuse as well, Biddick said. If there are services that a family needs or the family is having issues connecting with resources, they are encouraged to contact Aware Central Texas.
“If you come to us, we will help connect you with the service that you need,” Biddick said. “That’s part of our commitment to the Central Texas area is making sure that families are taken care of, especially during a time like this.”
The organization Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reported that for the first time ever, half of the victims calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline in March were minors.
Of those minors who discussed coronavirus-related concerns, 67 percent identified their perpetrator as a family member, and 79 percent said they were living with that perpetrator, according to the RAINN website.
Aware Central Texas’ 24/7 hotline is 254-813-0968. This number can be called or texted. The RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) hotline is 800-656-4673.