(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) As pre-pandemic life makes its slow return, domestic violence is rapidly increasing.
In the first four months of 2021, the St. Joseph Police Department reports a 341.67% increase in aggravated domestic assaults. Officers report 106 assaults year-to-date compared to 24 assaults by the end of April last year.
“When the police department reports a 300% increase in aggravated assault, it sounds absolutely horrific but I think that those numbers could be a little misleading when you’re trying to compare the two years because it’s comparing apples to oranges when you’re comparing the initial impact of the pandemic,” said Tammy Killin, CEO of YWCA.
In 2020, victim reporting took a sharp dive.
Jada McClintick, a liaison between the YWCA and the family crimes unit for SJPD, evaluates high risk abuse situations and works personally with victims. She said the pandemic instilled fear in catching the virus and stripped away victim resources.
“For the months of March and April in 2019, there were roughly 170 lethality assessments that we completed. So for 2020, that number dropped a little bit to 110. There could be a lot of factors. Maybe they didn’t want to report or they were afraid to seek services because maybe they still have to stay in the house with the abuser or maybe there’s children they have to homeschool. There’s not those alternatives to leave and seek services," said McClintick.
One of those reduced resources was the YWCA. Safety restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic limited the amount of victims the shelter could take on.
Killin said, “We were only allowed to have a woman in her room by herself or with her children and we could no longer have roommates. So, we went from 45-55 people that we were serving and it went down significantly.”
In 2021, lethality assessments increased to 140. There are more assault reports this year, but still short of pre-pandemic numbers.
The YWCA's numbers detail intimate partner violence which is the most common seen by the Buchanan County Prosecutor Attorney's office.
Prosecutors said they are seeing a rise in a wide range of domestic assaults.
“We’ve seen an increase in situations where adult children come back to their parents’ house whether it’s because they’re homeless, whether they have a drug or alcohol issue or maybe because they suffer from some sort of mental illness. But, they come back to their parents’ place and some type of violence takes place and that certainly qualifies as domestic violence too,” said Chad Gaddie, Prosecuting Attorney.
St. Joseph is seeing a sharp incline in aggravated domestic assault compared to 2020, but experts point to higher rates of reporting. They encourage victims and those aware of an issue to pick up the phone and call.
Gaddie said, “If you don’t report it, things don’t get any better. It takes a lot of courage to make those reports, but I think it’s necessary and people shouldn’t be shy about doing it.”
For help or more information, call the YWCA's hotline number at 1-800-653-1477.