Drop in domestic violence calls during pandemic worries crisis center

With the coronavirus stay-at-home order, the expectation at Lakes Crisis and Resource Center was that domestic violence calls would increase. Instead, they've either dropped or remained almost the same as 2019, for both the crisis center, the Detroit Lakes Police Department and the Becker County Sheriff's Office.

(Creative Commons/CMY KANE)

"Studies show that in times like this ... with people being kind of isolated at home, that domestic violence rises," said Anna Sellin in a phone interview on Friday, May 8. "Yet our calls for help going down is really concerning."

Sellin is the executive director of Lakes Crisis and Resource Center. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, she and many others had expected to see a rise in domestic violence calls. Instead, those calls have stayed the same or dropped. Before the pandemic, Sellin said the crisis center received a double-digit number of calls. Now, they answer only one or two a day.

"It's strange," Sellin said. "It's almost eerie."

She's contacted other crisis and resource centers, seeing if they're experiencing the same lower-than-expected numbers. They all said yes, she said, which worries Sellin "very much."


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Last year, the drop in domestic violence calls made Lakes Crisis and Resource Center Executive Director Anna Sellin, right, very worried. She thinks there could be an influx of clients after the pandemic is over. With her is Nichole DeConcini. (File photo / Tribune)

The Detroit Lakes Police Department and Becker County Sheriff's Office have corresponding numbers as well. The number of calls in 2020 is on par with the same time period in 2019.

"March 9 to April 17, we had 18 (domestic violence calls) that the sheriff's office responded to ... which was the same as last year during that same time period," Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander said.

In a similar time frame, March 15 to May 4, Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd said that "we had 13" domestic violence calls. That's a small increase in calls, as "we had nine in the city of DL" in 2019 in that same time, he said.

Both Glander and Todd did add that the domestic violence calls may also be labeled as a disturbance or assault, depending on what is reported and what the responding officers observe.

Nationwide, domestic violence numbers vary by state and city. The Women's Advocates shelter in St. Paul has had fewer calls but law enforcement's numbers are up, according to a recent MPR news article. Los Angeles and San Diego also reported drops, an ABC News article said in late April . But in Wisconsin, those calls were increasing, WPR reported in mid-April.

Victims have less access to help

"We know that it's happening," Sellin said. "Victims are out there and we're not able to serve them when they can't get to us or contact us ... Scary to think about what's going on behind closed doors and the isolation that they may be feeling."

The increased presence at home plus the unavailability of outside distractions is what Sellin believes could lead to an increase of domestic violence during the pandemic. There are also additional stressors that come with the pandemic, such as "financial concerns because of folks being out of work or just a lack of work," that may add to it, she said.


With everyone at home now, Sellin and the other agencies believe that victims of abuse can't make a quick, private phone call to ask for help, or even come into the crisis center. That may be because they don't have the means for it, can't get away from their abuser, or maybe aren't comfortable reaching out, she said.

"Even if they can just get out and go for a walk and try to talk to a neighbor, just something," Sellin said about getting out of an unsafe situation. "Seek out any opportunity to be in the position where they could have communication with someone else, someone safe."

Neighbors can be that helping hand by paying attention to each other. If there's ever been a suspicion about domestic violence in the past, Sellin said that "it's always a good idea, especially during this time" to reach out to that neighbor and see if they are OK.

"Maybe if you haven't seen them outside in a while (reach out)," she said. "Check-in on one another."

Check-in on one another but don't try to physically help someone yourself.

One idea being shared on social media finds people offering to be calls for help; if a victim calls, they would talk about makeup or soaps, which would be code for help.

While the idea is "noble," Sellin said these types of calls could put the helper in a dangerous situation without proper training. The best option is to contact the crisis center through calls, Facebook messages or untraceable emails. Sellin said that they've given advice to those in a violent situation or advice on how someone else can help a loved one in that position, and have created safety plans.

"We're creative and resourceful and we'll find ways to provide as much help as we can," Sellin said.


Since many victims can't get help now, Sellin expects that they will be contacting the crisis center after the executive order is lifted and "people have more access," she said.

"We're just expecting an influx and preparing for it," she said. "We may need to put in additional time or whatever it takes to meet the needs of the clients."

Even if those clients have been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of it, Sellin said that they "wouldn't deny them services, we would just go about it a little bit differently," like having that client stay in a hotel instead of the shelter.

Sellin and everyone else at the crisis center are prepared to help others stay safe from abusers, in discreet ways, while still keeping them safe from the pandemic.

For help

If you're in a violent situation and can't safely contact law enforcement of Lakes Crisis and Resource Center, reach out to friends, family or neighbors for help.

If you're worried about someone else, check-in on them. Contact Lakes Crisis and Resource Center for advice on how to help.

The Lakes Crisis & Resource Center in Detroit Lakes. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

After graduating from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2019, Desiree moved back to her hometown and started an internship with the Detroit Lakes Newspapers. At the end of July, she transferred from an intern to a full-time reporter and is slowly figuring out "adulting." When she's not writing, Desiree likes to travel, spend time on the lake (when it's not freezing), be with friends and family and binge-watch shows like The Office.
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