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Saving Grace: COVID-19, domestic violence a dangerous combination

Saving Grace

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- During the early days of COVID-19, families found themselves under a “stay at home” order. This meant parents and children who before had lived like ships passing in the night were suddenly all together in a very tight port.

For some families, it was an opportunity to connect and identify healthy activities to share together; for others, it became a nightmare of violence and distress that would go on to cause trauma, injury, and death.

“Isolation and desperation are key contributors to the increase in domestic violence we have seen in Central Oregon. Not only have we seen an increase in the number of calls, but in the severity of violence,” says Cassi MacQueen, executive director of Saving Grace.

“The lethal mix of families in a crisis forced to stay home together, with the extra burden of a deadly disease and the economic drain of job loss, created a perfect storm for families, most often for survivors who had nowhere to go or no way to ask for help because in many cases their abuser had control over everything.”

Restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the coronavirus are making violence in homes more frequent, more severe, and more dangerous, Amanda Taub, New York Times reporter, wrote on April 6, 2020.

“Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as Christmas and summer vacations,” according to Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies the issue. “Hotlines are lighting up with abuse reports, leaving governments trying to address a crisis they should have seen coming.” The Secretary General of the United Nations urged all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.

“We have seen a rise in domestic violence calls right here in Central Oregon,” says the Redmond Police Chief Dave Tarbet who along with Captain Devin Lewis highlighted service call statistics and trends at the Redmond City Council meeting on Feb. 16.

While the Redmond Police Department said they received 2,500 fewer calls last year, there was a concerning rise in domestic violence calls.  According to Captain Lewis, "Domestic violence was actually up 24 percent, the highest number we've seen in the city of Redmond. And we attribute that to the pandemic, with folks being just stuck at home with each other and not having the option to get away."

In Bend, the numbers tell a different story, a story wrapped in a unique COVID-19 challenge.

“In Bend, from 2019 through 2020 we have seen an 11.8% reduction in reported domestic crimes,” says Chief Mike Krantz of the Bend Police Department. “Although we are very happy to see a reduction in domestic violence criminal cases reported, my fear is these reductions are not a true representation of what is going on in our community. 

"The concern is that because of the isolation that has occurred due to the COVID-19 mandates, there are fewer eyes seeing survivors of domestic violence in our community, and with fewer eyes seeing, fewer people are reporting what they see, thus creating a barrier for what would normally be an opportunity for law enforcement intervention.  This reduction is consistent with an overall reduction in reported crimes for the same measurement period.” 

 How can we make sense of this information and the need that survivors in Central Oregon are facing? The truth is that in the complex reality of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, it is typically hard to make sense of what is senseless violence.

What we do know is that the barriers for survivors are growing along with the COVID-19 pandemic, and while numbers of active cases are decreasing in Oregon, the challenge that survivors face are not. 

That is where Saving Grace comes in. Saving Grace was established in 1977 to provide comprehensive domestic violence and sexual assault services to communities across Central Oregon. Free, confidential services are provided for all survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking and dating violence, regardless of their financial, gender, marital, disability or other status.

“During the pandemic, a way out for survivors has been more important than ever,” says Saving Grace Direct Service Program Manager Ashby Rodriguez. “In the last year, our contact with clients has risen significantly, specifically around housing. We compared our survivor data from June to December of 2019 to June to December of 2020.  We found that 45% more people were sheltered in 2020, and generally needed shelter for longer periods at a time, than they did in 2019. That’s a staggering increase.”

The goals at Saving Grace for survivors are clear: Safety, hope, and healing. Saving Grace’s 24-bed shelter was one of the first six shelters in the United States to be constructed specifically for battered women. Our counseling center provides free therapy for survivors and their children, and is offered in addition to safety planning, crisis counseling, and employment and housing assistance.

“We cannot express enough the gratitude we have for the work that Saving Grace does,” says Chief Krantz. “Saving Grace’s service to the survivors of domestic violence is so critical to raising women and men out of violence and onto a path of safety and reduced trauma.  We are proud to be partners with Saving Grace. “

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the Saving Grace 24-hour helpline at 541-389-7021.

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