that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a rise in family violence. Now, new San Antonio Police Department statistics bear that out.
SAPD has reported an 18% increase in family violence-related calls in March, compared to the same period of last year.
Stress over the outbreak, job loss and economic strain, coupled with families being cooped up inside, is likely to increase both the frequency and severity of family violence incidents, advocates say. Their warning is borne out by rises in domestic violence calls during during past disasters including Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Houston.
"If we don't start doing something now, as communities, those are the outcomes we can expect," said Gloria Terry, CEO of the Texas Council on Family Violence. "We need to make sure we're promoting awareness at the beginning of this crisis."
On Sunday, the United Nations called for urgent action to combat a worldwide surge in domestic abuse, the New York Times reports. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary General António Guterres posted on Twitter.
San Antonio may be particularly vulnerable to an upswing in domestic violence.
The city is already in the midst of a family violence epidemic
. Last year, 29 people in Bexar County died at the hands of partners, the highest number on recent record. In 2017, the county recorded the state's highest per-capita rate of women killed by their intimate partners.
In a statement released Tuesday, San Antonio officials reminded residents that social distancing shouldn't require them to stay hunkered down with an abusive spouse.
“Right now, many people in our community are experiencing immense challenges and are under extreme stress due to COVID-19,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in the statement. “We know that domestic violence and child abuse happen behind closed doors, and so we want to remind people to check on their loved ones during this time to ensure their mental well-being and physical safety.”
People who need help or shelter from family violence should call 911 for life-threatening emergencies, according to city officials. Those needing to make a safety plan or report suspected abuse should call (210) 207-SAPD.
Family Violence Prevention Services can provide support for those seeking shelter by calling (210) 733-8810. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available at (800) 799-SAFE.
Terry of the Texas Council on Family Violence said law enforcement officials shouldn't be the only ones prepared to respond. The legal system and nonprofit resources also must be ready to meet the growing needs of women and children escaping violent homes.
What's more, teachers, coworkers, friends and family members must be able to look for the warning signs of abuse and stay connected with people they worry are at risk during the outbreak.
"All of those things equate to making sure we have the proper level of readiness as a community," Terry said. "We know this is coming."
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