Ann Arbor women’s shelter: No spike in domestic violence cases during COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why.

SafeHouse Center warns of detrimental effects of isolation

Some cities have seen a rise in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic. (Shutterstock)

ANN ARBOR – While stay-at-home orders in Michigan and throughout the world present certain challenges to those living under them, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault are a particularly vulnerable population during extended periods of isolation.

Though local law enforcement agencies and Ann Arbor’s women’s and children’s shelter, SafeHouse Center, have not had spikes in calls relating to domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, there could be several underlying reasons, said SafeHouse Center Executive Director Barbara Niess-May.

Since the stay-at-home order went into effect in late March, survivors face more challenges in reaching out for help and support and have far less privacy.

According to Niess-May, the following factors may be contributing to domestic abuse cases not being reported:

  • Fear of calling 911. There has been coverage about emptying prisons and jails, and survivors are less likely to call 911 because they feel certain that their assailant would be released and will return home even though there are no contact orders put in place.
  • Isolation, a tactic on the Power and Control Wheel. Isolation is often the first step an abuser uses to convince a victim that their controller is the most important person in the world. By using isolation as a method to cut off family and friends, the abusive partner has a greater amount of control in the relationship. This includes watching what a survivor is doing at all times, perhaps removing communication devices, limiting access to family and friends as well as not letting them out of their sight. Survivors do not have a chance to reach out for support, especially with the stay home order in place.
  • Dependency on assailant income. There may be fear of leaving reliable income and going to a shelter. And, as they look into the future, they may wonder how possible employment is in this recession. They may not see a clear path to accessing child care, looking for a job or finding housing.
  • Assailants effectively use power and control tactics. Once an assailant uses the tactics, survivors learn quickly what the assailant is capable of, and will continue to believe that they could use the tactics.
  • Lack of privacy. What enables a survivor to escape abuse is extensive safety planning. A critical component of safety planning is having privacy to plan and leave.

“While survivors may be prevented from reaching out, we know that assailants are still being assailants,” Niess-May wrote A4 via email. “We want survivors to know we hear and see you. Help and support (free and confidential shelter, counseling, PPO assistance and other assistance) is available right now for those who can safely reach out and it will be there when ready.”

SafeHouse Center is asking members of the community to educate themselves on the signs of domestic abuse, keep a close eye on family and friends and engage on social media.

SafeHouse Center’s 24/7 hotline can be reached anytime at 734-995-5444.

To learn how COVID-19 has affected SafeHouse’s programming and services, click here.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.