Crisis center expects domestic violence cases to rise as people stay home

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — The call for Americans to stay home is growing, but that could mean an increased risk for domestic violence victims.

Manuela Vazquez with First Step said isolation and economic stress are two of the main factors that lead to domestic violence -- both of those could be triggered by the coronavirus.

"By being in close quarters with abuser, you are spending more time with them, so you are more susceptible to that violence," said Vazquez. "Stress doesn't cause domestic violence, you're just more susceptible by being in close quarters like a quarantine."

About one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vazquez said First Step has not seen an increase in calls yet, but they are prepared for a surge in the coming weeks.

"We have been getting an increase in inquiries as to what we are doing during this time," Vazquez said. "People are thinking and preparing for a surge in calls as the stress continues and there's a lot of uncertainty."

First Step has implemented a remote work plan in which staff moved into the shelter with the current guests to protect them from exposure to COVID-19. They've also come up with a plan for future victims.

"Anybody that comes to First Step to seek shelter, we are sheltering them at an undisclosed location outside of the shelter to maintain safe distance from the guests here," said Vazquez.

Experts say having a personal safety plan is recommended for survivors.

"They can make sure they have all of their necessary documents. Any important papers, on hand to grab and leave if they do find themselves in a violent situation," said Vazquez.

If you are being abused, or know someone who is, click here or call the hotline at 540-434-0295.