Arizona’s stay-at-home order during the pandemic was intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the restriction had the ugliest consequence for victims of domestic abuse – they were stuck at home with their abusers.
Kathi DeClark, president of Faith and Grace domestic violence shelter in Lake Havasu City, said the shelter took in almost double the number of battered women this year versus the same time period in 2019. From March 11 to May 13, nine women and two children escaped from their abusers and moved into Faith House.
The pandemic’s stay-at-home order was lifted Friday. DeClark said she hoped that easing restrictions will bring relief to domestic violence victims who suffered even more the past eight weeks.
The front line
Havasu law enforcement statistics tell a slightly different story. Sgt. Tom Gray of the Lake Havasu City Police Department said officers responded to fewer domestic violence incidents during the stay-at-home order versus roughly the same time period in 2019.
In March, officers handled 63 incidents that resulted in 43 arrests. For the same month in 2019, there were 77 incidents and 48 arrests.
For April 1-29, there were 51 domestic violence incidents in Havasu and 33 arrests. In April 2019, there were 76 incidents that resulted in 61 arrests.
For January through October in 2019, there were 630 domestic violence incidents in Havasu and 423 arrests. Going back a little further, in 2018, officers handled 718 incidents and made 560 arrests.
Gray said that in the past eight weeks, officers investigating domestic violence calls took extra precautions by being aware of anyone with COVID-19.
“Domestic disturbances are very unpredictable. It is one of the most dangerous calls any officer can respond to,” Gray said. “The mindset of an officer is to try to be prepared for anything while protecting the victim as well as the suspect from any further harm. Our officers receive tactical training as well as training in de-escalation techniques to try to resolve (the) incidents quickly and safely.”
While domestic violence comes in all stripes and colors, there is often one common thread between them all.
Gray said substance abuse issues are “commonly a factor in many domestic violence incidents our officers respond to.”
The first year
Faith House’s one year anniversary was in March, DeClark said. In its first 12 months, 35 women and 15 children have resided in the 2,700 square-foot home.
The average age of the women was 35. Some of the shelter’s guests are very young – 18 to 20 years old. No guests have been more than 50 years old.
DeClark estimated that a third of the shelter’s women were physically abused.
“Women who come here needed to immediately get away from their abusers,” she said.
But, as DeClark has learned over the past year, the decision to leave home and move into the shelter is not a spur-of-the-moment decision for most of the women at Faith House.
“Leaving is a process. They think about it for a long time – months to years. Most of them are terrified to leave home because they are afraid to be homeless. Many of them don’t have a job, their own money or a car. Their abusers control every aspect of their lives. They tell the women they aren’t worth anything,” she said.
Through the shelter’s counseling program, the women have a chance to restore their self-esteem.
“When they come here, we turn off their phones’ GPS or they get a new phone number. Technology is not your friend in these situations. You can find anyone anywhere these days,” DeClark said.
The boomerang effect
Many women at the shelter get jobs, learn to save money and eventually build a new life for themselves.
“But sometimes they go back (to their abusers). We had six (women) who went back since May 2019,” DeClark said. “Two of those left because they missed their dogs.”
She’s also seen women return to the shelter.
“The first time she’s here, he sweet talks her and makes promises that things will be better. When it isn’t better, the women come back and it sticks – finally,” DeClark said.
“When they come here, we want them to be open to change. We want them to participate in our programs and be ready to heal.”
IF YOU NEED HELP: Victims of domestic violence are urged to call the Faith and Grace’s 24-hour hotline at 928-302-1358.
HOW TO HELP FAITH HOUSE: DeClark said there is a great need for mundane household and personal hygiene items. as well. Donations can be dropped off at the Havasu Community Health Foundation, 94 S. Acoma Blvd. Financial contributions can be mailed to Faith and Grace Inc., P.O. Box 774, Lake Havasu City AZ 86405 or call 928-453-8190. Email questions to email@example.com or visit the website at FaithandGraceInc.com.