Long Beach Police Department received 15% more calls to service for felony spousal abuse in March compared to last year’s average. The increase occurred during the same month that California’s implemented its statewide stay-at-home order.
The data, which was obtained from the Long Beach Police Department, suggests that the stay-at-home order may have played a role in increased felony spousal abuse calls.
Dean Lockwood, director of the Long Beach domestic violence nonprofit Su Casa, said that being stuck in close quarters for a prolonged period of time can increase the chance of domestic violence.
“It’s difficult for two people, in a regular relationship, to be able to function when they’re locked in 24 hours a day,” Lockwood said. “But when it’s this controlled, manipulative situation, it can erupt as tensions increase because of the close confinement.”
Data obtained from the Los Angeles Police Department revealed a similar increase. Domestic violence-related calls to service from February to March increased by 6.4%. From March to April, calls increased by 13.6%.
Due to an increase in media requests, neither the Long Beach Police Department nor the Los Angeles Police Department were able to conduct an interview on the topic.
Lockwood said that abusive relationships all have one aspect in common: control.
“There is one partner, one spouse, that is in control of the situation and manipulates the situation to benefit that person,” Lockwood said. “Whether it’s financially, sexually, physically, emotionally, and creates situations where it’s difficult, if not impossible, for clients, abused spouses, to leave.”
He pointed out that widespread financial stress may be playing a role in the increase in felony spousal abuse calls. In March, the US Department of Labor received 6.6 million unemployment insurance claims, according to a DOL press release.
“One of the things that is a driver is going to be finances,” Lockwood said. “If you have someone who is not able to work, the tension is higher and the probability of an outbreak is greater as well.”
Mary Ellen Mitchell, the executive director of WomenShelter Long Beach, said that her organization tends to see an upward trend in domestic abuse hotline calls during times of stress.
“When anything happens in the world, world events, anything stressful happens, we see an increase in domestic violence,” Mitchell said. “Even say, when there are sports events, Super Bowl Sunday, you’ll have a lot of incidents.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a page dedicated to coping and stress during COVID-19, citing that many may have feelings of sadness, anger or frustration.
“I think a lot of it is just stress,” Mitchell said. “People losing jobs, not knowing what’s going on, and just the virus, people getting sick, that always contributes to domestic violence for sure.”
As tensions rise, victims are unable to find a safe place to call for help.
“We’ve had calls from people that were hiding in their backyard,” Mitchell said. “People aren’t able to get to the phone to call for help, so it might take them a while to actually call.”
Though calls to police for felony spousal abuse increased in March, both Mitchell and Lockwood agree that these numbers don’t show the whole picture. In fact, both Mitchell and Lockwood received lower numbers of calls to their organizations’ abuse hotlines during the first few weeks of stay-at-home.
Lockwood said that Su Casa saw a 10% to 15% decrease in domestic abuse hotline calls in March. Mitchell reported a similar decrease in the women’s shelter hotline.
“If someone has the ability to go to a friend’s location, they have access to a phone that’s not traceable or a computer that they have free access to, [they can] investigate different avenues out of an abusive situation,” Lockwood said. “When those were taken away, the outreach stopped. They weren’t able to make those calls.”
Long Beach began its initial reopening phase in mid-May. As restrictions loosened, both Su Casa and the WomenShelter of Long Beach saw surges in domestic abuse hotline calls during the second half of April.
“We all anticipate, in the next several weeks, as things lift, that we will be getting a lot more calls and our services will be needed even more,” Mitchell said. “Because now they’ll be able to get out and make phone calls.”