October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Albuquerque has seen a drastic rise in cases since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
When the coronavirus began to spread in the United States, there was fear amongst domestic violence resource centers for victims trapped in isolation, according to Caitlin Henke, a program specialist with the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) at the University of New Mexico.
“This sort of shelter in place just left people, victims, so vulnerable and people were leaving their homes less frequently,” Henke said. “People who were considering leaving domestic violence suddenly couldn’t leave. And then if your perpetrator never leaves the house, you don’t have the opportunity to flee or even do the things that they were planning to do, like make safety plans, freely talk to an advocate in a way that didn’t identify it.”
Vincent Galbiati, executive director at the Domestic Violence Resource Center (DVRC), explained that domestic violence is a cycle that ensues with an attack, then goes into a honeymoon or apologetic period, then goes into a tense period leading up to another attack where the cycle starts over again. This is all a “dynamic about power and control.”
The pandemic has allowed these cycles to continue because people stay at home much more, according to Galbiati and Henke.
“When I would talk with other advocates and even the director at WRC, we would all be talking about how scary it was not to be hearing from students as much anymore … It was so, so quiet at the beginning of the pandemic, and it terrified us because especially domestic violence really thrives in isolation and secrecy,” Henke said.
Attacks, which typically range from three to four minutes, have been lengthened to hours with drastic physical attacks, resulting in broken bones and strangulation, according to Galbiati.
“It took what was probably already an extremely stressful environment and added another layer of complication that I think for a lot of people discouraged them from even trying,” Henke said.
The DVRC deals with “the systemic nature of domestic violence” and has seen about 500 victims a month during the pandemic, whereas before the pandemic it was about 350, according to Galbiati.
“Once we can introduce what DVRC does — engaging at the crime scene, providing physical services and getting counseling — we can break the cycle of domestic violence about 95% of the time,” Galbiati said.
Albuquerque faces some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the United States, according to Galbiati. Nationally, less than a third of domestic violence incidents are reported, which makes research into how common it actually is difficult.
“I don’t think we necessarily deal with really good statistics, because mostly this particular form of abuse is so silent,” Galbiati said. “Nobody wants to expose themselves, nobody wants to be a victim and nobody wants to be an offender.”
Another significant issue is that 80% of domestic violence cases are dropped due to courts being overloaded, Galbiati said.
“It’s retraumatizing to relive over and over the description of the assault,” Galbiati said. “Victims get fatigued, and they finally give up and say the process is too long, it’s too demanding, there’s not an end in sight, and of course, offenders are offered equal opportunity to think of representation, and defense lawyers are very equipped to elongate cases to the point that they’re dropped.”
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is an opportune time to educate the community about what domestic violence is and how to be aware of it in everyday life, according to Henke and Galbiati.
“Having a month dedicated to (domestic violence) allows an opening for survivors to share narratives and talk about what abuse looks like and to have sort of different ideas of what abuse is to emerge and be eliminated,” Henke said.
Galbiati identified the various types of abuse that individuals may face in relationships, from emotional abuse to physical and financial abuse, all of which are extremely isolating.
Galbiati said it generally takes a victim seven attempts to break a domestic abuse cycle on their own.
“The last thing as an organization that you want is to only have one month be the recognition month, but we do want to take advantage of it because it’s nationally recognized so you have the opportunity to really push the agenda of organizations like DVRC,” Galbiati said. “You don’t want victims to be silenced. You want to talk about domestic violence openly.”
Galbiati said education pertaining to domestic abuse should start as early as middle school, with curriculum developed to teach awareness from a young age.
College students should also be able to “understand the dynamics on control (and) understand the dynamics of what it means to be in an abusive relationship.”
“This is every bit of an epidemic as COVID,” Galbiati said.
Megan Gleason is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716