Domestic violence calls to IMPD surged 65% early in pandemic, report says

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Domestic violence in central Indiana grew more prevalent and severe in the first year of the pandemic, according to the 2020 State of Domestic Violence Service Report released Tuesday.

Emergency calls for help rose. Domestic violence-related calls to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department increased 65% from 2019 to 2020, with nearly 31,000 calls made.

The spike occurred as health protocols limited service providers’ ability to help.

“The pandemic has put more stress on the system, causing local organizations to adapt to keep victims and survivors safe when seeking shelter was not an option due to COVID-19 safety measures,” said Kelly McBride, the Domestic Violence Network’s executive director, in a media release.

The pandemic’s social distancing and capacity limits led service providers to turn away more than 1,100 people, according to the report.

But, McBride said, “Despite the circumstances in 2020, nearly 7,000 individuals were still able to access safe shelter from Central Indiana direct service providers.”

Calls to a group of domestic violence service providers dropped, although the report noted the decrease was likely due to unavailable data from a main call-taking organization.

From July 2020 to June 2021, the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence recorded 41 domestic violence fatalities, which the report says was in line with previous years.

What wasn’t, however, was the prevalence of guns. Guns were used in 83% of deaths, compared to 65% in 2018 and 2019.

Domestic violence workers also reported seeing more severe abuse.

“We’re seeing more weaponry used,” said Jami Schnurpel, director of programs and survivor services at The Julien Center, in the report. “We’re seeing a higher level of violence. We’re seeing more strangulation than we have in the past.”

The report recommended that domestic violence services providers continue to receive support and additional funding. It noted a recent, “significant” increase but said the funding “has not yet proven fruitful in diminishing the number of individuals experiencing domestic violence.”

The report also recommended funding and expanding domestic violence prevention programs, including advocacy for healthy relationship and dating curriculum in central Indiana schools. That included building on the 2010 Heather’s Law that required the Indiana Department of Education to collaborate with domestic violence organizations on school policies and educational materials.

The report’s final recommendation was to strengthen compliance when a court orders someone to surrender a firearm and to better restrict future access to firearms. It also wants greater effort from a wide variety of entities to address root causes of crime, such as living wages, housing, child care, health care and education.

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