2020 was a challenging year for everyone in our community. It changed the way most of us live our lives. Everyday access to necessary resources came to a sudden halt, and many of our routines and habits were forced to change.
Meghan Francone, OHA Director
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in different ways, and some of its aftermath has social workers and healthcare experts concerned. One of the negative results of the past year has been the overall increase in sexual assault and domestic violence cases in Moffat County.
More victims sought help at the end of 2020 than in all of 2019, which has led to local officials taking a closer look at what may have led to these higher-than-normal numbers and how they can connect victims with resources that ensure their safety.
According to Meghan Francone, MHA, BS SLP/Aud., CFI, director of Open Heart Advocates through Community Clinics at Memorial Regional Health and Moffat County Coordinator for Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide (REPS), the stressors in 2020, specifically related to COVID-19 concerns, exacerbated risk factors for mental health issues, domestic violence, sexual assaults and crime.
Studies show that, generally, intimate partner violence cases tend to increase during emergencies. When there is increased stress on a relationship, or when victims are put into a situation where they can be more easily manipulated, isolated and controlled, their abusers will take advantage of their inability to protect themselves.
Breakdown of statistics, data
Quarter four of 2020 had more sexual assaults and domestic violence cases than all of 2019 combined, according to numbers reported by Open Heart Advocates (OHA).
Domestic Violence Contacts
In 2019, there were a total of 580 reported domestic violence contacts in Moffat County. In 2020, there were 960 domestic violence contacts — a 66 percent increase year over year. Many of these 2020 contacts occurred in September (142), October (149), November (139) and December (150).
Sexual Assault Contacts
In 2019, there were 39 reported sexual assault cases in Moffat County. In 2020, there were a total of 144 — a 269 percent increase year over year.
Please note that many sexual assault cases go unreported. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police.
What these stats show
The OHA data shows that most domestic violence and sexual assault reports in 2020 occurred toward the end of the year. However, Francone warns these numbers may be misleading, as vulnerable populations did not have access to their normal resources at the beginning of the pandemic (March and April) when everything shut down.
“Kids weren’t in school and people were more shut in their homes than they are now, so they might not have been able to make reports or weren’t seen by any reporting parties,” she speculated.
Another reason for the increase in case counts could be, simply put, that people are tired. Support systems and any sense of resiliency may have faded over the past 10 months. The disruption of social and protective networks paired with loss of income are risk factors that contribute to increased risk of violence.
“These numbers let us know we have to come together to help mitigate impacts, but especially during these trying, dynamic times,” Francone said. “We are seeing some of our most vulnerable become victimized.”
Francone, along with many other public health experts, said victims and survivors feel like they can’t leave their current situations in the midst of this pandemic — or they don’t feel safe to — because they can’t financially support themselves. As the world begins to reopen, the hope is that individuals will again have access to the resources they need, alleviating pandemic-caused stressors and related risk factors.
How to reach out for help
Francone and her team at OHA want the public to know that they don’t need to go through their victimizations alone. There is always support available in your time of need.
“Abuse comes in many forms,” Francone said. “If you need education or resources, please reach out. OHA offers confidential conversations with anyone on our advocate team. If you don’t know where to go, you’re not sure how bad things are or you just need to talk to a trained individual, we ask people to please utilize our 24-hour hotline.”
Advocates can also assist victims who do not want to pursue legal action. If you are not comfortable yet talking to law enforcement or navigating the judicial system, OHA offers support to its victims in any way they need.
“Our trained advocates help victims maintain their autonomy while receiving services personalized to them and their individual needs,” Francone concluded.
Warning signs of abuse
There are several types of abuse, including physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. A few warning signs that you or someone you know might be in an abusive relationship include:
- Telling you that you never do anything right.
- Becoming extremely jealous when you spend time with friends, family or any time away from them.
- Discouraging or not allowing you to spend time with others.
- Insulting, demeaning or shaming you — especially in front of other people.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions.
- Controlling several aspects of your life, including your finances or what you wear.
- Emotionally intimidating or physically threatening you.
It’s never too late to ask for help. There are always individuals available to offer support when you need it.
Source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline
If you or someone you know is in imminent danger and/or requires immediate attention, call 911 or seek emergency medical treatment. If you are alone, OHA advocates can join you to ensure you receive proper care and provide guidance through your time of need.