Advocates say domestic violence is increasing during the pandemic

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — In a domestic violence situation, removing yourself and getting to safety is critical.

But, what happens when you don’t have anywhere to go and, technically, aren’t allowed to leave?

Advocates say that can be a fatal combination.

“If you think about survivors, most often their home is the most dangerous place,” said Tova Hariston, executive director for the Coastal Women’s Shelter.

A shelter in place order is designed to protect us from COVID-19.

Experts say it may also set people up to become domestic violence victims.

“When you’re kind of forced to be in a battlefield all day, it wreaks havoc and is really traumatic for folks,” said Hairston.

Police are also seeing signs domestic violence is on the rise.

“We’ve actually seen a 6% increase in the amount of reports taken for those domestic violence incidents,” said Donald McInnis with the New Bern Police Department.

But, not every victim feels safe reporting.

Crisis calls to the Coastal Women’s Shelter are down 40% since the pandemic started.

“If an abuser is home with a victim there are going to be fewer opportunities, the victim can’t just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hi, I need help,'” said Hairston.

Fewer crisis calls means abuse may be escalating.

“I’m seeing a lot of assault by strangulation,” said Valerie Pearce, assistant district attorney at the Pitt County DA’s Office. “We’ve charged several felony assaults…the severity of the injuries are increasing.”

Advocates say the fight won’t end when the pandemic is over.

“This is a battle that survivors don’t necessarily get to escape once a shelter in place order is lifted, their home will continue to be a source of stress and potential danger for them,” said Hairston.

Workers at the Coastal Women’s Shelter tell me they’re focusing on educating people about these crimes.

They hope it will lead more domestic abuse victims to get help.

For more resources across our state, click here.

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