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Fact Check Friday: Did pandemic prompt surge in domestic violence?

WCPO_domestic_violence_scene.jpg
Posted at 9:36 AM, Feb 05, 2021

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed the incorrect number for Safe Passage's 24-hour HelpLine. WCPO regrets the error.

Did reporting of a potential rise in domestic violence constitute a “media hoax?"

A news release from the Coalition to End Domestic Violence, a policy organization “committed to finding substantive solutions to stop domestic violence in the United States,” described an alert from March 2020 and subsequent reporting the “Greatest Media Hoax of 2020.”

“I'm referring to the repeated claim that, as a result of coronavirus stay-in-place or stay-at-home policies, there was going to be a spike or a spurt in domestic violence cases,” said Dr. Ed Bartlett, president of the CEDV.

The news release stated:

“One of the reasons for the false claims was a failure to recognize that domestic violence follows a cyclical pattern, with the number of cases rising in the spring and declining in the fall. If this pattern is not recognized, increases due to seasonal changes could be incorrectly attributed to coronavirus stay-at-home policies.”

Bartlett said the media accounts also consistently depicted men as the abusers.

“Bottom line is it was just an example of how the domestic violence issue is driven far more by a narrative than by the truth.”

For Indiana’s Safe Passage, helping domestic violence victims in Dearborn, Franklin, Ohio, Ripley, Switzerland and Jefferson counties, calls did not spike, but the severity of those calls did.

Executive Director Jane Yorn said, “Since the first of September, we have had five domestic violence-related homicides in our little six-county region which is unprecedented. We would have maybe one every three to four years previous to this.”

Yorn said domestic violence thrives in isolation and that “has been a very big part of the pandemic, the economic stress, that also increases the likelihood of more severe violence, as well as struggles with depression and other mental health challenges. Those are all pieces to this puzzle that really make it very logical that we would see a connection between that rise in violence and severity, particularly in areas where resources are limited.”

Ohio, according to the most recent data, saw 14% percent more domestic violence-related deaths in the first few months of the pandemic and a 35% increase overall from June 2019 through June 2020.

Mary O’Doherty is the executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. In January, ODVN surveyed their 75 member programs, including Women Helping Women and the YWCA Dove House and found “more than half of our programs reported an increase in survivors seeking shelter, survivors making calls to the hotline or making other kinds of requests for services in 2020 compared to the year before."

"To me, the most compelling of all is that 58% of our programs noted an increase in the severity of violence and injuries that were reported. And we saw an alarming increase in strangulation," O’Doherty said.

O’Doherty says that without final numbers it is difficult to say the increase is, in fact, due to the pandemic, but the numbers show a rise regardless. The group is lobbying the state legislature for $5 million in extra funding for domestic violence programs in Ohio, calling the current funding “extraordinarily low” compared to surrounding states.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact one of the following resources:

Safe Passage's 24-hour HelpLine: 877-733-1990
YWCA Hamilton 24-hour Crisis Line: 1-800-618-6523
Women Helping Women: 513-381-5610

You can send me your Fact Check Friday questions or topics to adrian.whitsett@wcpo.com.