As stay-home restrictions ease, Peace House preparers for new calls for help
The Park Record
In late March, when the scope of the coronavirus pandemic became clear and Summit County’s business closures and stay-at-home order took shape, Peace House was making preparations of its own.
In a statement provided to The Park Record, Peace House Executive Director Kendra Wyckoff said the nonprofit domestic violence shelter worried the stay-at-home order and the stress of COVID-19 could create a potentially dangerous situation.
“The shelter in place mandates to protect public health have an unintended consequence for victims of family violence and abuse,” she said. “Home is not a safe place for everyone and the avenues for respite, support and connection for victims of domestic violence have been diminished or completely cut off.”
Victims are less likely to reach out for help while in close proximity to their abusers, but now that the restrictions are easing, Wyckoff said she is expecting to field more requests for help.
“We at Peace House expect to see an additional increase in requests for service as victims of domestic violence may now have safer opportunities to reach out for support and help,” she said. “We are also concerned about an increased risk for violence as abusive partners may view the mandate relaxing as a threat to the power and control, they have had over their families during this time.”
While there may be an increase in domestic violence to come, at least from a law enforcement perspective, there wasn’t a large uptick in April while the stay-at-home order was in place.
Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright said his office was prepared to field additional calls.
“Of course, the stay-at-home order can create additional challenges on families and mental wellness,” he said. “I think there was a general assumption that domestic violence cases might increase because people were forced to be home more.”
Wright said the Sheriff’s Office responded to 21 reported cases of domestic violence from March 1 to May 1 this year, identical to the same period in 2019.
Park City Police Department Captain Phil Kirk said the situation was about the same for his agency — a slight increase in cases, he said, but not a significant one.
The key word, Wright said, is “reported.”
“Domestic violence doesn’t always get reported to us out of fear,” he said.
Wyckoff said during the month of March, Peace House served 26 individuals for 660 nights of safety. In April, the number decreased to 17 individuals in the emergency shelter for 310 nights of safety. Wyckoff attributed that decrease to the stay-at-home order, which was lifted May 1.
“As the shelter in place mandate has remained in place, the ongoing social isolation and economic hardships have presented increased barriers for victims to reach out for help and have hindered their exit plans to flee an abusive relationship,” she said.
Peace House also provides monetary assistance to those who have been able to access housing or maintain their current housing. She said the assistance provided has increased 140% over January and February. That assistance can include money for rent, utilities, car repairs and phones.
Wyckoff said Peace House has also seen an increase in calls to its helpline, 25% more than the average from December through March.
While the number of domestic violence cases reported to law enforcement has not increased, Wright said the Sheriff’s Office stands with Peace House in urging the community to be vigilant.
“One case of domestic violence in our community is one too many,” he said. “We encourage our community members to seek help if they are in an abusive relationship.”
Peace House is available to help abuse victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its helpline is staffed by trained advocates to assist anyone who has experienced dating and domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking with safety planning, safe shelter and referrals to other services and programs.
Peace House’s helpline can be reached at 1-800-647-9161. Additionally, Summit County Victim Assistance can be reached at 435-615-3851.
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In one case, a Park City woman entered into a plea in abeyance for misdemeanor child abuse.