As people shut themselves inside their homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19, experts who study domestic violence are expecting a concurrent epidemic of abuse.

And data collected last month show Victoria is not immune.

In March, the Victoria Police Department received 60 domestic violence calls, almost double the 35 domestic violence calls made in March 2019. In February, the department received 50 such calls, compared to 45 in February 2019.

“It’s safe to say these numbers are higher than usual beginning in March,” said Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig.

In spite of the increased number of calls to police, Ginny Stafford, CEO of Mid-Coast Family Services, said her nonprofit has seen a significant decrease in the number of calls to its domestic violence hotline.

Stafford attributed the decrease in calls to fear of retribution for reaching out.

“Victims are afraid to use their phone with somebody that’s being threatening or controlling in the proximity,” she said.

Stafford said there’s also usually a decrease in calls around Christmas, another time when people spend an increased number of hours at home.

“There may be a delayed response,” she said. “Around Christmastime, our numbers are down, but then a week or two out there’s an explosion of calls.”

In addition to being stuck at home, Stafford said a number of stress factors surrounding the spread of COVID-19 could increase tension that leads to abuse.

“It’s being confined at home, it’s a loss of income, worrying about bills, worrying about your kids, worrying about health – just anxiety as a whole,” she said. “If you’ve already got a dysfunctional relationship, this is not going to make it easier. It’s going to make it harder.”

Stafford also said people might not be calling Mid-Coast Family Services because they don’t want to leave their homes in this uncertain time.

“When they call the police, they think their batterer is going to get arrested, but when they call us, they’re thinking they’re going to have to leave,” Stafford said.

Although businesses have closed their doors, Stafford said Mid-Coast remains open to anyone who is in immediate danger. She said staff members are taking care to limit potential exposure to the new coronavirus.

Morgan O'Hanlon is the business and agriculture reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6328, mohanlon@vicad.com or on Twitter @mcohanlon.

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