Is the Pandemic Fueling More Domestic Violence?

The lives of thousands of women and children could be at risk.

There is a lot we don’t know about the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But here are some of the facts:

  • Officers were responding to a call for a domestic disturbance.
  • Blake was shot in the back multiple times.
  • Blake’s three children, ages 3, 5, and 8, were in the car when their father was shot.
  • Blake appears to have survived, but it has been reported that he will be paralyzed from the waist down.

This video of the shooting has gone viral, but apparently Facebook felt that it was too graphic to post on their site.

 

Part of what makes the shooting such a concern is that it occurred after a call to the police about a domestic disturbance. If the takeaway for women is that calling the cops could result in yet another Black man being gunned down by law enforcement, they are likely to think twice before doing so. That puts the lives of both women and children at risk when they are threatened.

During the time that I was collaborating with a police department in a previous job, I learned that domestic calls for service made up about one third of calls to the police. That comports with data collected by the New York Times, Philip Bump, and Jerry Ratcliffe. The question this raises is whether law enforcement is the best way to respond to those situations. We are beginning to hear about alternatives in places like Eugene, Oregon and Alexandria, Kentucky.

While a slogan like “defund the police” is red meat for Trump and his enablers, those examples are actually the kind of alternatives people are talking about. Here is how Ebony Morgan explained the importance of the program in Oregon:

I came into this work passionate about being part of an alternative to police response because my father died during a police encounter. So it matters to me very much…

I think policing may have a place within this system, but I also think that it’s over-utilized as an immediate response because it just comes with a risk. And it’s a risk that crisis response teams that are unarmed don’t come with. You know, in 30 years, we’ve never had a serious injury or a death that our team was responsible for. And I think that’s important to note.

As I mentioned previously, while overall crime has decreased in 2020, homicides are up in many major cities. We don’t know why that is happening, but here is at least one expert’s speculation.

Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Center for Policing Equity, points to increased domestic violence as one possible cause of the increase in murder. “The first explanation that I have is that this comes from people being locked inside (during quarantines) and a lack of social services,” he said. “All those things are things that we would expect to lead to higher rates of violence. That’s speculation, though. I have no evidence that that’s the right thing other than the rise in calls for domestic violence.”

Here are the facts about the rise in calls for domestic violence:

The pandemic and accompanying public health response led to a 10.2 percent increase in domestic violence calls. The increase in reported domestic violence incidents begins before official stay-at-home orders were put into place, is not driven by any particular demographic group, but does appear to be driven by households without a prior history of domestic violence.

The shooting of Jacob Blake points to a very deadly combination: a pandemic fueling domestic violence paired with justifiable concerns about police brutality.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.