Aid For Domestic Violence Victims Still Available During Pandemic
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, resources are still available to anyone experiencing domestic violence in Denton County and nationally.
Denton County is currently under a stay-at-home order where people are encouraged to stay home except for essential businesses, with public school classes canceled until at least May. These measures to prevent the virus from spreading also bring concerns that domestic violence could increase because people will be closed in with their abusers.
Denton City Council member Keely Briggs on Thursday led a virtual discussion with Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon and Toni Johnson-Simpson, the executive director for Denton County Friends of the Family, to address these concerns.
The main takeaway is that victims of abuse can still reach out for help to both the police and Friends of the Family. Dixon reminded viewers that people can reach police by texting 911.
“We are doing intakes and counseling and advocacy, as well as legal consults,” Johnson-Simpson said. “We’re doing all those by phone now or by video conferencing.”
Denton police continue to respond to calls for service and are still investigating reported crimes, Dixon said. Both Johnson-Simpson and Dixon said people should call 911 rather than Friends of the Family if there is imminent danger.
“We are staying consistent [in calls], especially when we’re talking about crimes of violence,” Dixon said. “The men and women of the Denton Police Department [are] still out there doing their job every day like they were prior to the pandemic.”
Dixon said the Police Department received about 12 fewer domestic violence cases in March 2020 than March 2019 but wants people to be aware that sometimes people can’t report family violence.
“I don’t want people to get lulled into a false sense of [security] because we’re down 12 cases from the same time … last year, that we don’t have a significant increase,” Dixon said.
Johnson-Simpson said Friends of the Family has seen a 36% increase in calls from mid-March to the end of the month; however, she noted that those calls were largely people seeking information on their resources now that many functions such as the court system have largely shut down as a measure to fight COVID-19.
Although financial stress during the pandemic can influence abuse, she said it’s highly likely that there was a power and control dynamic in place beforehand.
“The basic issue is power and control, so we can’t lose sight of that,” Johnson-Simpson said. “If we lose sight of it being about power and control … when COVID-19 is over, we forget that domestic violence still exists.”
Friends of the Family had 61 new requests for intakes from March 18 to March 31, which is on par for what they see on a monthly basis, but Johnson-Simpson said they expect the number will go down since there has been a shift in switching to phone and video response from them.
“I would think that [the new intakes] really were already homes that were experiencing violence or some level of control in the homes, and perhaps this proximity and the quarantine certainly may escalate an already difficult situation,” she said.
Johnson-Simpson said it’s probably unrealistic for cases to come in where a victim says there was no violence or level of power and control before the pandemic.
Briggs also mentioned the concern about nonviolent inmates being released. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed an order Wednesday to release up to 1,000 nonviolent inmates.
If this were to happen in Denton County, Johnson-Simpson said her concern is that offenders who were jailed on nonviolent crimes, who have a history with domestic violence, would then continue to be abusive.
“You can’t make a broad sweep or broad brush and say that we need to release all these folks that we’re deeming nonviolent, which will put some of these abusers back into their homes with these families,” Dixon said. “We need to have a very thoughtful conversation on what we’re doing to those homes. Are we sending abusers back into it? … How can we keep [victims] safe at the same time while balancing public health?”
Friends of the Family is still accepting people at its shelter and can help people into hotels if needed. They screen people’s temperatures before they arrive and recently kept a family isolated from others after being tested.
Now that kids are largely at home because their schooling has moved online, they don’t have access to other adults — their teachers — who can spot red flags or signs of abuse at home.
Johnson-Simpson and Dixon said it can be hard to spot red flags sometimes because a kid may be shy in nature, and because some people are waiting to hear about physical violence rather than other power-play moves in the home before thinking something is wrong.
“With school being out, children lose access to a lot of safe people in their lives,” Johnson-Simpson said. “Yet the teachers are still interacting with them online … our grocery store workers, our clerks, for all those people who are still out there that are having access to the public, I would just encourage people that if you see something, say something.”
If victims can’t call 911, they can text 911 in Denton. Denton County Friends of the Family’s crisis hotline can be reached at 940-382-7273 or 800-572-403. Victims can text the National Domestic Hotline line at 22522.*
Written by Denton Record Chronicle's Staff Writer Zaira Perez
*please note that the name for the National Domestic Hotline was edited from the original article to reflect the accurate name of the agency to text.