Domestic Violence Awareness Month: The impact of COVID-19 on Hamilton County

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October is National Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month. Domestic violence—also referred to as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), dating abuse or relationship abuse—is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. 

According to Ruben Muriente, Outreach Coordinator and Intervention Specialist Supervisor at the Family Justice Center (FJC) in Hamilton County, there was a slight decrease in the reporting of domestic violence cases when the national COVID-19 quarantine began in late March. But in May, calls to law enforcement agencies resumed. 

“There are no situations that trigger DV—the DV is driven by behaviors learned,” Muriente said. “There are environments that are likely to foster confidence amongst perpetrators. However, abusers are likely to gravitate to social environments that do not address DV, minimize it or excuse it. Any environment that is male dominant, misogynistic or unwilling to address the issue will likely have more abusers than groups that intentionally address it and have victim support protocols or advocacy.”

According to Annette Heck, a social work professor at Southern, DV can be fostered by isolation. This is because it keeps a victim from reporting, escaping or displaying what may be happening in the home. Because of these factors Heck believes COVID-19 would affect the rate of DV.

FJC has experienced a decrease in walk-ins for non-emergency cases. The trend is likely due to the abusers working from home, which decreases the opportunity to seek services safely without the abuser knowing, according to Muriente. 

“This trend has been tied to the fact that there are a great majority of cases where the perpetrator is in isolation with the victim and that abusers are not being detained after law enforcement is alerted to a call of DV,” Muriente said. “Victims have felt utter desperation and have felt that their lives are in peril due to being quarantined with [their] abuser and many jails not holding abusers due to COVID-19.” 

On top of isolation, financial issues and job losses can be stressors that can escalate the cycle of DV, according to Heck. 

The Family Justice Center of Chattanooga is located at 5705 Uptain Rd, Chattanooga. According to its website, services include assistance in creating a personal safety plan; Help finding a safe place for victims, the victim’s children and pets; education and awareness regarding DV, elder abuse and human trafficking; referrals to services available in Chattanooga civil legal services and help obtaining orders of protection, personal support in court appointments, emotional support and free individual and family counseling. 

The local domestic violence and sexual assault crisis hotline is (423) 755-2700.

Aubri Dancek

Aubri Dancek

Aubri Dancek is a mass communication senior from Punta Gorda, Florida. Aubri discovered her passion for journalism after taking a news reporting class at Southern. This is her first year working at the Southern Accent as a lead reporter. In her spare time, Aubri enjoys playing sports, cooking, and graphic design.

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