Public Safety

Linn County domestic abuse cases spike, likely tied to coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions

Cedar Rapids Police Department cruiser at night with emergency lights (Cropped CRPD photo from November 2019)
Cedar Rapids Police Department cruiser at night with emergency lights (Cropped CRPD photo from November 2019)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Staying at home is crucial to help the community get through the coronavirus pandemic, but for those in an abusive relationship, home is not a safe place.

The domestic violence criminal cases in Linn County have spiked 54 percent over the last two months when compared to the same time period last year.

That spike is unusual because the number of such cases typically remain fairly stable, according to Anastasia Basquin, chief victim liaison and community outreach specialist with the Linn County Attorney’s Office.

From March 1 through April 13, 54 cases were filed against accused abusers, a total that could include more than one charge. Last year, over the same period, 35 cases were filed, and the number of domestic violence cases for all of 2019 decreased from the previous year.

The charges filed include felonies and misdemeanors for domestic assault, according to a data report compiled by Basquin.

Some of the cases involve people accused of hitting or punching their partner in the face, shoving them to the ground, strangling them, verbally assaulting or using a weapon to threaten them and/or preventing them from using a cellphone to report the abuse.

Basquin said any kind of stress — job loss, not being able to leave the home, overall anxiety of the health crisis — will likely fuel an already abusive environment.

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During the last several weeks, Basquin said she has received calls from women who are having difficulties finding a place to move so they can leave an abusive situation. Some landlords aren’t renting apartments during this time, and the option to move in with friends and family may not exist now because of social distancing.

LEAVING IS HARDER

Nelly Hill, director of domestic violence services at Waypoint, said most of the women Waypoint staffers have talked with are putting off their plans to leave or “flee” because they don’t want to go to a shelter, they are worried about being exposed to the coronavirus and also because they can’t move in with friends or relatives at this time.

“Leaving an abusive relationship is a process that requires a lot of strategy, resources and support,” Hill said.

“This pandemic has impacted the availability of housing, resources, employment and child care — all things that are necessary for survivors to find success and leave safely.”

Leaving also increases the risk for a deadly situation, Hill said.

Waypoint advocates have been able to find housing for some women and are working with landlords or property managers who are continuing to lease housing during the pandemic.

Everybody is struggling with different issues during this isolating time, Hill said, but those in abusive situations may have different priorities and different basic needs.

Those needs, she said, include hygiene kits and diapers and wipes, which can ease issues that might lead to a combative environment.

Waypoint still offers all its services and programs, which are now mobile, and the crisis hotline continues to be available 24/7, Hill said. Waypoint also is offering one-on-one counseling by phone and virtual group meetings — “distancing together” — so people can stay connected.

CHILD CARE

Basquin said one woman who works at a local nursing or long-term care facility called her recently and wanted her former boyfriend released from jail so he could take care of their children. The woman worried she might become exposed to the virus and feared “for her life.”

“She had broken up with the partner but the assault happened during a child exchange,” Basquin said. “She wanted him out of jail to make sure her kids were taken care of if she got sick. He was not abusive to the children.”

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The prosecutor worked to speed up the process, Basquin said. The man was charged March 22 and pleaded April 10, which is a quick resolution. He was sentenced to two days in jail, time he had served, and was released.

PHONE CALLS BETTER?

Basquin said she and the other victim/witness coordinators also are conducting meetings with victims of crimes by phone, which have resulted in 88 percent participation. She has had only three victims not call in for initial meetings. The in-person participation is about 64 percent.

Basquin thinks the success of the call-in meetings might be because they are less intimidating and more convenient than having to leave a job or find someone to watch a child. She said the office may consider doing more of the meetings by phone in the future.

FOR HELP

• Waypoint, Cedar Rapids: (319) 363-2093; 1- (800) 208-0388

• Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Iowa City: 1- (800) 373-1043

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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