With people losing jobs, children at home with online learning assignments, and shelter in place orders across the county, the ingredients for domestic violence and child abuse has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, said District Attorney Mike Fields.
Oklahoma City police have reported a recent spike in domestic violence cases. A portion of western Oklahoma City is in Canadian County. But the number of victims making reports overall may be down, Fields said.
Although the Canadian County Courthouse has been closed to the public and routine courtroom hearings halted, people can still request a victim’s protective order by calling first and then driving to the courthouse. Staff members can meet people outside to sign paperwork, Fields said. A judge can issue a VPO without a hearing, he said.
Since county officials and city officials declared state of emergencies in March due to the coronavirus, Fields has feared an increase in domestic violence, especially if the situation continues through the summer and into the fall.
“My perception is that shortly after the shelter in place orders are made, the number of calls to police goes down, but that is only momentary. My concern is with people working at home, laid off and with anxiety about the future and the unknown, the increased isolation and with financial difficulties, that when you put all that together that it is now a volatile mix for domestic violence,” Fields said.
While home may not be safe for a victim, there may not be as many places to go temporarily during a pandemic, Fields said.
Adding to the stress, children are home with schools out, Fields said. Online school assignments may be due and families may have struggles with bills and technology issues at home, he said.
“Home is not a safe place for everyone. For victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, shelter in place orders and self-isolation recommendations are probably making domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of intimate partner violence more frequent, more dangerous, and more severe,” Fields stated in a news release.
Fields said there is “a direct correlation between natural disasters and increased rates of domestic violence.”
“Isolation is one of the most powerful weapons used by domestic abusers to accomplish their objectives to control and manipulate. I’m concerned that our efforts to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 are being used by abusers for their own controlling, abusive purposes,” Fields said.
Because of these concerns, Fields said he wants to make sure victims knew that protective orders are still available.
“Even though there have been many closures and cancellations due to COVID-19, we want to assure victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that help and hope are still available.
Fields said people are not prohibited to leave their homes to apply for a protective order.
“Victims are permitted and even urged to leave their homes to get to a safer location at any time even in spite of the Safer at Home and Shelter in Place orders. You will not be arrested for leaving your home to get to safety. Please do not suffer in silence. Abuse is never your fault.”
Meanwhile, Yukon police spokesman, Maj. John Brown, said Monday that officers have not had an increase in recent domestic abuse complaints.
Fields is district attorney for Oklahoma District 4 over five counties, Blaine, Canadian, Garfield, Grant, and Kingfisher counties. Before the pandemic, Fields said there were about 20-40 victim’s protective orders issued a week in all five counties. That number has dropped to single digits. Fields thinks the reason is limited access to courthouses.
“Domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and abuse of any kind will not be tolerated in our community. Even in these uncertain times, law enforcement will arrest offenders and the D.A.’s Office will hold offenders accountable for their choice to be violent and abusive,” Fields said.
He said he is also concerned child abuse and substance abuse cases could go up.
Victims can call or text 911 and request a protective order if they feel threatened or scared. They can also get help at ICAN or they can call the DA’s Office at 405-262-0177 even though the Canadian County Courthouse is closed to the public.
Anyone needing counseling, shelter, transportation, food, or help accessing any community resource they should contact the Intervention and Crisis Advocacy Network (ICAN) on their 24 hour hot-line at 405-262-4455.
You can also access an ICAN advocate by messaging them on their Facebook page.