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Pandemic stressors correspond with spike in domestic violence reports in King County

The pandemic and its economic fallout have made it harder for those who experience domestic violence to escape their abuser, say crisis teams, but the <a href="https://www.thehotline.org/">National Domestic Violence Hotline</a> is one place to get quick help. Text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 if speaking by phone feels too risky.
The pandemic and its economic fallout have made it harder for those who experience domestic violence to escape their abuser, say crisis teams, but the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org) is one place to get quick help.

A surge in domestic violence in 2020 is on pace to continue this year in King County, led by an increase in violent deaths. Officials and social workers say stay home orders meant to protect human health amid the coronavirus pandemic can make victims more vulnerable. And the abuse overwhelmingly hits women of color.

In 2019, there were 10 violent deaths due to domestic violence in King County: four homicides, three suicides and three officer-involved shootings. Nearly 80 percent of them involved victims of color and their families. Last year, that statistic nearly tripled to 28, with 18 homicides, said David Martin, chair of the domestic violence unit at the King County Prosecutor’s Office in a briefing earlier this month.

He said that’s the greatest number of domestic violence homicides in King County since 2007.

"And so far in 2021,” he said in mid-October, “we are on pace to meet or exceed that number with 17 homicides and, overall, 24 violent deaths related to domestic violence.”

Martin said the clear trend lines are creating urgency and speeding up the deployment of new programs and tools. These include a new option for victims to file for a protection order remotely, rather than going to a courthouse.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – which has been observed nationwide since 1987. King County marked it with the mid-October briefing for press and participation in a symposium held online from Oct. 19-29 to showcase and develop innovative thinking among law enforcement, attorneys, social workers and child advocates.

General advice and information on domestic violence prevention are available on King County’s website. Caroline Djamalov, senior deputy in the King County Prosecutor’s Office, highlighted a common miscarriage of justice that is being slowly corrected with a new program in King County. She said a common scenario occurs when a victim is being strangled.

The victim — who is most often a woman of color — generally attempts to defend herself either by punching, hitting or scratching the abuser. When police respond, they see visible injuries on the male abuser. But they don't see any marks on the domestic violence survivor.  

“Often because injuries from strangulation can be internal, they're not going to be visible, particularly for survivors of color who have darker skin. And those injuries just aren't going to show up to police officers responding,” Djamalov said.

“And so what can happen, and what does happen, is that police then arrest the survivor and bring criminal charges against her.”

The new program, developed in partnership with the YWCA and the King County Prosecuting Attorney, is called Survivors FIRST (Facilitating Information and Resources for Survivors of Trauma). It seeks to disrupt the "abuse-to prison-pipeline" by identifying survivors who may face false charges and giving them representation.

Another program, called Project Safety, provides pro bono civil legal assistance to crime victims to help resolve civil legal issues that arise as a result of victimization. The aim is to help victims stabilize their lives and prevent further victimization with legal assistance that ranges from brief legal advice to full representation in court.

Authorities are urging victims and their advocates to seek help if it’s needed.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is open 24 hours a day every day at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY). If calling feels too risky, you can text START to 88788.

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