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By Deanna Paul and Zusha Elinson

May 13, 2020 9:00 am ET

One of the early texts to New York’s new hotline came in: “I’m in the bathroom right now texting you. This is kind of the only chance that I have to talk to somebody.”

The woman had reached a breaking point after weeks with her violent, unemployed partner, said Sara Hirsch, the communications specialist who received the message.

The text helpline, launched by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, is one of the ways government officials are trying to help domestic-violence victims stuck at home with alleged abusers during the extended coronavirus lockdowns.

Ms. Hirsch, messaging from her home on Long Island, strategized by using the woman’s adult children visits as a ruse to get out. “It feels like there’s no escape,” Ms. Hirsch said.

As incidents intensify around the country during shelter-in-place orders, authorities and victim advocates are devising new tactics. From New York to California, they are launching text lines, handing out prepaid cellphones that abusers can’t track, setting up remote systems for restraining orders and offering free apartments in high-rent locations.

Many of the usual avenues for escape have been cut off. Social activities, jobs, religious services and doctor’s visits that gave victims the chance to be alone and report abuse have vanished. Shelter systems for victims across the country remain open, but many have cut capacity to allow for social distancing.

Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Seattle and Fort Worth, Texas, have all reported upticks in domestic violence calls. In King County, Wash., where Seattle is located, there were two domestic homicides and one attempted during the last two weeks of April compared with eight for all of last year. In Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, there have been seven domestic homicides since mid-March, compared with eight for all of last year. the National Domestic Violence Hotline since mid-March and cited Covid-19 as a trigger.

In some parts of the country including Delaware, the lack of an increase in calls spurred concern that victims weren’t able to reach out for help, said Mariann Kenville-Moore, director of advocacy and policy at the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“How do you call 911 if the person who’s endangering you is right there?” Ms. Kenville-Moore asked. “How do you call a hotline if your phone is being tracked?”

Ms. Kenville-Moore suggested to the state’s attorney general, Kathy Jennings, that prepaid mobile phones, given discreetly to victims, could help. Ms. Jennings’s office secured 100 phones that are now being handed out around the state.

“What we’re seeing is that the normal avenues that would provide some respite from what is going on inside the house—schools, community contacts and work—those things don’t exist right now,” Ms. Jennings said.

One woman called the National Domestic Violence Hotline about her partner, who claimed he had Covid-19, then intentionally coughed in her face, said Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the hotline. The caller wanted to flee with their children but asked where would they go. The woman wondered whether shelters were shut down or if she would expose her elderly parents to the contagion.

First responders gathered near the scene in Lemon Grove, Calif., where two girls were killed and a suspect arrested after an apparent domestic violence shooting on April 15 that also left a man wounded.

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In Tarrant County, Texas, officials are now monitoring more than 50 people facing domesticviolence charges who were flagged as high-risk for lethality, several of whom were released from jail on bond as part of a statewide effort to reduce incarcerated populations during the pandemic, said Allenna Bangs, chief of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office’s intimate partner violence bureau.

Last month officers in the area responded to a report of domestic violence but left the home without arresting the husband or the wife. The man strangled and killed her with a cord later that day during an argument about the earlier call to police, according to court documents.

Have you or someone you know been a!ected by domestic violence during the pandemic? We’d like to hear your story. Use the form at the end of this article to contribute to a future reporting project on this issue.

Four of the seven domestic homicides in Tarrant County since mid-March have involved guns, Ms. Bangs said. Firearms in the home and prior abuse are the biggest predictors of domestic homicides, she said.

In King County, there has been a 20% increase in domestic-violence felony cases, including murder charges against a man accused of strangling the mother of his two children just months after he got out of prison. He had attacked her in 2013.

“The number and the intensity of the cases have escalated,” said David Martin, chief of the domestic-violence unit in the prosecutor’s office in King County.

In San Francisco, domestic-violence cases are down, but District Attorney Chesa Boudin said he fears that attacks aren’t being reported. The city, known for its high housing costs, has secured 20 furnished apartments so that victims trapped with abusers during the lockdowns can move to a safe place, he said.

“It’s important that victims not be faced with the choice of staying at home with an abuser or end up on the streets,” Mr. Boudin said.

Write to Deanna Paul at deanna.paul@wsj.com and Zusha Elinson at zusha.elinson@wsj.com

Source: http://wsj


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