SALEM, N.H. — Deputy Chief Joel Dolan said the Salem Police Department has seen a dramatic increase in domestic violence calls since the stay-at-home order was put in place in New Hampshire by Gov. Chris Sununu due to the coronavirus.

In just more than two weeks, the department received a similar amount of disturbance calls — a category that includes domestic violence — as it did in the entire month of February.

From March 28 to April 8, a total of 27 disturbance calls came in, Dolan said. Eight of those were domestics. Through the whole month of February, 26 disturbance calls came in, 10 of which were classified as domestics.

That's a trend police departments and domestic violence support agencies are worried about as people are asked to stay home for extended periods of time, especially under the pressure of economic stress.

“The pandemic itself might not be creating more abuse, but is creating more opportunity for abuse," said Pamela Keilig, public policy specialist for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

She explained that current circumstances might give abusers the ability to exert more power, especially in decision-making. 

The worst outcome, she said, would be that people stop reaching out for help, especially, she said, if they don't realize it's still available.

“Even though we are isolating we don’t have to be alone," Keilig said.

In New Hampshire, the Sununu expanded resources for domestic abuse victims, including money for hotel stays as shelters become full. He also widened the Family Violence Prevention Specialist Program, which in partnership with the coalition and Division for Children, Youth and Families, works specifically with families experiencing domestic violence issues.

"There are resources available to help people facing these situations," Dolan said. He stressed that anyone feeling unsafe should call the Police Department.

Andover police are seeing fewer overall calls, but the number of domestic disturbance reports stays steady, Lt. Edward Guy said.

Between March 1 and April 13 the department responded to 21 domestic incidents, including six abuse calls, Guy said. In the same time period last year the department received 19 calls, he added.

Lawrence police also reported that there has not been an uptick in domestic calls, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening, Director of Police and Community Relations Sandy Almonte said. 

"I think a lot of people just don't have options because it's likely someone would need to be removed from a home and courts are closed," Almonte said.

Courts are open for emergency hearings, she noted. And restraining orders and emergency restraining orders are still able to be obtained at police stations.

Also, safe-plan advocates are still working and helping people through these processes.

"Services are still being provided," said Arelis Gandarilla, director of community-based domestic and sexual violence programs at the YWCA in Lawrence.

That shelter is currently at capacity, but a statewide hotline offers help to find available beds — which they've been working to secure in hotels, as well.

"We are being as creative as possible," Gandarilla said.

Almonte added that because she and others are doing work from home instead of their offices, people might not pick up the phone when they call to do a regular check-in on someone who has reported abuse.

However, Almonte wants people to know she is getting messages and people are picking up the hotline numbers.

"There is no need to feel to stay in an abusive relationship because of the pandemic," Almonte said.

GETTING HELP

YWCA: Has two 24/7 bi-lingual hotlines for sexual assault and domestic violence. Sexual Assault hotline is 877.509.YWCA (9922). Domestic Violence hotline is 844.372.9922.

New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence: accessible 24/7 by calling 1-866-644-3574 for the domestic violence hotline and 1-800-277-5570 for the sexual assault hotline.

Massachusetts' Safelink: hotline for domestic violence is 877-785-2020.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY. Also log on to thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.

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