PORTLAND, Ore. — Under Gov. Kate Brown’s order requiring Oregonians to stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak, most families are cooped up inside for hours and spending more time together than normal.
With so many people working from home, stress-relieving outlets closed, activities canceled and social gatherings banned, many of us are feeling a heightened sense of anxiety and stress. That can lead to tension in relationships with people living under the same roof; whether it’s with a spouse or partner, children, siblings, or parents.
In toxic relationships where domestic violence, partner abuse or child abuse are prevalent, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay home order, layoffs and economic turmoil might be amplifying those issues.
For many survivors of domestic abuse, staying home may not be the safest option.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline says when survivors are forced to stay in a home with their abuser more, the abuser can use anything to exert power or control over the victim, including this public health crisis. An abuser may take advantage of the stressful situation to gain more control, advocates say.
Domestic violence shelters in Portland are working around the clock to help victims and survivors impacted by Oregon’s stay home order. Raphael House of Portland told us at the end of March their 24-hour hotline was getting more calls than usual and they only expect the numbers to increase.
“For those who live with domestic violence, staying home and isolated with an abuser can put the whole family at greater risk,” Raphael House of Portland Executive Director Emmy Ritter said.
Domestic violence calls and domestic disturbance calls are up in many cities in the Portland metro area.
Data from the time frame beginning when the governor’s stay home order was issued on March 23 until the last day of the month, compared to the same time period in 2019, shows an increase in calls, cases or arrests in a number of cities.
A number of Portland metro area cities and counties saw a rise in domestic disturbance and domestic violence calls, cases or arrests last month compared to March 2019.
Comparing the week after the governor’s stay home order went into effect to the week prior also shows an uptick in cases or calls for service in a few jurisdictions.
KGW checked in with the following agencies to get a gauge on what they’re seeing: Portland, Gresham, Lake Oswego, Hillsboro, Beaverton Clackamas County, and Washington County. The way domestic violence data is categorized varies between some of the agencies, and a few departments are still gathering the data for us.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a COVID-19 emergency declaration on March 12. From March 12 to March 23, the Portland Police Bureau says it arrested 38 people for domestic violence compared to 30 arrests for the same time period in 2019. That amounts to a 27% increase.
For the same duration of time before the mayor’s emergency declaration (February 29 to March 11), 34 people were arrested. This shows a 12% increase in arrests after Portland’s emergency declaration.
PPB says there are delays in processing reports and complications surrounding the variety of different codes domestic violence crimes can come in to dispatch as. PPB says it determined the most accurate impact by analyzing arrest data.
“This data is an indication that our officers are making more arrests for domestic violence charges than previously, which indicates we are doing our part to arrest perpetrators of violence to increase victim safety,” Chief Jami Resch said in a press release. “Ideally, we want to connect victims to services prior to violence occurring and there are a number of community agencies with resources available. Please, help us get the word out about support services so we can help those whose safety is at risk."
Gresham police data shows they arrested 12 people on domestic violence-related charges from March 23 to March 31 of this year. In the same week last year, police had arrested six people.
From March 12 to 23, the 11 days prior to the governor’s stay home order, they had 19 domestic violence-related cases.
From March 1 to March 25, Gresham had 31 domestic violence cases compared to 20 domestic violence cases in March of last year.
Gresham is seeing an increase in domestic violence cases compared to 2019.
Clackamas County is still gathering exact data, but data for the month of March shows the county is seeing an increase in calls for service related to domestic violence.
Sgt. Marcus Mendoza says there were 303 domestic violence calls for service this March. Last March, there were 261.
The Lake Oswego Police Department says it had 22 domestic disturbance calls in the month of March compared to eight last March. That is a 175% increase.
Public Information Officer Sgt. Tom Hamann said the city has seen a significant increase in domestic disturbance calls, disturbance calls and death investigations compared to last year.
"I don't want anybody to ever feel like they are burdening us by calling us when they're having a dispute at home and feel they can't resolve it. If they are in that situation they absolutely should call us and we will help in any way that we can to try and resolve the issue and prevent something from getting worse," Hamman said.
Hamann says fortunately, as far as police are aware, situations did not turn physically violent and they did not have to make any arrests when responding to a domestic disturbance.
"I don't know if that is because people are calling early which, if they are, hopefully that's true," Hamann said.
It’s a different story for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where the public information officer said they arrested 18 people on domestic violence-related charges between March 23 and March 30 of this year, compared to 23 people the week before the governor’s executive order.
And from March 23 to March 30, 2019 the sheriff’s office arrested 28 people on domestic violence related charges.
Arrests in general are down; in March 2020 the sheriff’s office arrested 123 people versus 327 in March 2019.
That being said, family disturbance calls are up a bit. Sheriff’s officers responded to 58 family disturbance calls from March 23 to March 30 of this year, compared to 52 calls the week prior.
The Hillsboro Police Department is still gathering precise data but their crime analyst said they compared the number of reports taken with the last four years of data and it shows domestic violence reports are “pretty typical” for the month of March, as are the number of domestic violence arrests.
“Our [Domestic Violence Reduction Team] advocates confirm the same and are closely monitoring the number of calls they are receiving,” Hillsboro PD’s crime analyst said.
Reach out for help
If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you can't talk on the phone safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
Para información en español, visita la página “En Español.”
Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.
Abusers can monitor their victims' internet and phone use, so advocates can help survivors develop a safety plan around those issues.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline also has a guide for survivors on staying safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Advocates say COVID-19 could impact intimate partner violence survivors in the following ways:
- Abusive partners may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
- Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
- Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted –- shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelter because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
- Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
- Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
- An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.