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Dip in domestic violence calls may not be good thing, advocate says

A disturbing trend has emerged as the world deals with a pandemic: Some people aren’t safe in their own homes, victims of domestic violence.

Lately, more rooms sit empty at the women’s shelter in Collier County and fewer people call in for help, but Linda Oberhaus, CEO at The Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, doesn’t believe that means there’s less domestic violence.

“An addition to the fact that victims are confined in close quarters with their abusers is that children are not at school, and that these same children are being exposed to the violence that’s happening at the home when ordinarily they would be at school,” Oberhaus said.

When the governor issued the safer-at-home order, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office saw an uptick in domestic violence.

“But that has since kind of planed off and it is in the normal parameters of what we compared to last year,” said Chief Deputy Tim Guerrette.

Oberhaus worries victims of domestic violence are afraid to make the call.

“They’re sheltering in place with their abuser and so they are really not in the position to be making calls to the hotline,” she said.

“What worries me the most is that we know there are victims out there that are in need of support, assistance, emergency shelter or maybe just counseling that are not able to get the help they need.”

Meanwhile, she wants everyone to know the shelter’s services are still available, and the facility is getting clean every two hours so families can come and feel safe from their abusers and the coronavirus.

“We still have advocates available every day around the clock,” Oberhaus said.

The shelter said from March 15 to March 16 last year, the crisis hotline had 144 calls. During that same time this year, they had 76.

WINK News safety and security specialist Rich Kolko found out how police deal with potential victims when domestic violence isn’t reported.

They have to be proactive, whether it’s responding to a hang-up call or seeing the tell-tale signs of physical violence.

Chuck Wexler is executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and has studied the issue.

“So departments have to look at who their victims have been, check in with them, use investigators, work through different agencies as intermediaries, shelter centers and so forth. And really reach out to potential victims,” he said.

“If someone’s afraid, they may call the dispatch center and hang up. So police departments know to approach those locations.”

Law enforcement officers say money problems, job loss and substance abuse can lead to domestic violence, but so can social media when one partner hides their social media usage to cover up another relationship.

Answering domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous for officers because they never know what they’re walking into when they arrive, and either party can cause a problem.

RELATED LINK: Department of Justice – domestic violence information

Reporter:Gina Tomlinson
Rich Kolko
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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