By Samah Assad, Megan Hickey
Chicago Police have responded to a spike in domestic violence calls for service in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a statewide stay-at-home order, data shows.
As the pandemic began to take hold locally, police saw the number of calls go up week by week.
For the week of March 16 to March 22, there were 2,882 domestic violence calls for service. During the same period last year, there were 2,638 calls. That is a 9.2% increase. Gov. JB Pritzker issued the stay-at-home order to begin March 21 and has extended it since then.
The following week, from March 23 to March 29, police received 2,947 calls for service. During the same timeframe last year, there were 2,629 calls. That’s a 12.1% increase in calls.
From March 30 to April 5, total domestic violence calls peaked to 3,163, a 14.6% increase from the same time last year, when there were 2,760 calls.
CPD Domestic Violence Calls
Victim advocates and police believe a critical reason for the surge is some victims are not able to leave their homes where an abusive partner may also live or frequent due to the stay-at-home order, adding stress to already abusive relationships.
Aileen Robinson, Domestic Violence Operations Coordinator with Chicago Police, said without the ability to leave, more people are depending on calling police to get relief from abuse.
“I think the virus itself is bringing a lot more stressors into the home,” Robinson said. “They absolutely can lead to escalation of behaviors, and I think you’re seeing a lot of that coming out moving forward, especially with more time spent staying home.”
She also said police expect to see the numbers continue to go up in coming weeks.
Chicago is not alone. Major cities across the country, including Boston, Seattle and Portland, among others, are seeing spikes and in some, double-digit percentage jumps in domestic violence 911 calls, according to a Business Insider report. Upticks were also reported internationally, including in France, a Reuters report said.
Stephanie-Love Patterson, executive director of the non-profit Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWA), said she expects abusers’ manipulation and control, as well as severity of abuse, to worsen during the coronavirus crisis.
“Sheltering at home is not necessarily a safe option for victims of domestic violence,” Patterson said. “We are essentially asking some victims to stay at home with the perpetrator who’s also at home.”
CBS 2 spoke to a domestic violence survivor said as soon as she learned about the stay-at-home order, she was afraid.
“It creates literally a deadly environment where you’re scared, you’re terrified,” she said. “I put myself right back — as soon as they mentioned the lockdown, it was like my heart sank because it thought to myself, the poor kids, the poor wives, the poor husbands who are stuck at home with their abuser. This is going to create a very, very deadly, if not toxic environment, for all parties involved with no reprieve from this.”
The Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence (ICADV) said in 2019 it served 45,319 adult survivors of domestic violence in the state.
To adhere to social distancing, multiple domestic violence organizations CBS 2 interviewed said they’ve had to limit and repurpose space to accommodate more people who need help. Patterson said at one point her organization’s three-story shelter was full since the stay-at-home order went into effect. The shelter receives an average about 20 to 30 calls per day, and is now receiving about 5 to 10 more calls per day. But it’s likely many more need help.
Robinson also said as part of a pilot program, four out of 20 police districts are conducting assessments on the scene of domestic violence calls. The assessments involve officers asking questions about pattern of abuse, if weapons are in the home and whether or not a victim has been strangled by their abuser, among others.
Patterson routinely works with the police department to provide services to victims and said officers in the 14th district, for example, usually give about 20 to 30 assessments per week. In one week alone in mid-March, she said they gave 16 assessments.
Robinson said the assessments can be a critical tool, especially during the pandemic, to capture a history and pattern of non-fatal strangulation by an abuser as the injuries can potentially lead to respiratory issues. This information would then be documented and can be used to help treat the victim appropriately depending on their symptoms.
Although calls to police are going up, Patterson expects it to be harder for victims of abuse to reach out for help. But it’s not impossible, she said.
Victim advocates are encouraging anyone experiencing abuse to plan ahead and come up with reasons to leave their home if they need to report incidents of abuse. This includes running to the store, checking on a neighbor and creating code words with loved ones.
Advocates also encourage loved ones to amp up their communications and check-ins with family or friends who they believe may be in an abusive relationship.
“[Abusers are] hovering around them,” Patterson said. “So whatever types of things they can do to very secretively get a message out to a trusted person is something that could help literally save their lives.”
On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a partnership with Lyft and Uber to provide free rides to domestic violence victims who need to flee an abusive situation during the stay-at-home order. Victims can contact the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7, at 877-863-6338, and operators will send a driver from Lyft or Uber to pick up rider and take them to a new location of their choice.
The state a;sp announced a $1.2 million plan to increase the capacity of the current statewide network of services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes expanding the role of the domestic violence helpline by creating a one-stop access point for shelter needs, including additional assistance for those living in Chicago fleeing a violent situation to provide them access to a safe shelter.
In addition, Robinson encourages those with access to smartphones to sign up for the city’s Smart911 service. It allows residents to create a free profile with their information. If they need help in the case of an emergency in the future, they can place the call and the call taker and emergency services can more quickly respond.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the City of Chicago’s Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-877-863-6388.
For more information about CAWA’s outreach programs and shelter, or if you need to contact CAWA, call their hotline 773-278-4566.
Apna Ghar (Our Home) is another local non-profit that offers services and support for abuse victims, including an emergency shelter. They can be reached at their 24/7 hotline 773-334-4663, or text 773-899-1041.