Study: Domestic violence hotline calls rise 52% in Alaska

The Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims in Anchorage. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Domestic violence and sexual assault organizations in Alaska have experienced a 52% increase in hotline calls as residents remain at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, a study said.

The Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault took a survey of 30 shelter providers statewide from March 11 to April 24, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

In that time period, shelter capacity was reduced by 57% to comply with federal social distancing guidelines, meaning some shelters limited one person to a room instead of four, the study said.

To curtail limited space, shelters saw a 60% increase in alternative housing options such as hotel rooms and safe houses, and a 20% increase in online tool usage, the study said.

“They realized they had to make quick changes to how they conduct business,” council director Diane Casto said.

Children staying in shelters were also having trouble keeping up with schoolwork in part because of the lack of computers or internet, officials said, adding that there are efforts to increase resources and provide more laptops and tablets.

But not all regions in the state were reporting an increase in demand or services, the study said.

Anchorage saw a 67% decrease compared to its western and southcentral neighboring cities who saw an up to 63% increase in the demand for agency services, the study said.

The declining demand could reflect easier access to alternative resources in a larger city, Casto said.

“The real picture of how stay-at-home orders have impacted domestic and sexual violence in Alaska won’t be truly understood until after communities begin opening up, people go back to work and victims are able to make reports and seek services again, without their perpetrator watching and limiting their movement and ability to reach out,” Casto said.

Data analyst Morgan Cruz-Erisman noted the survey’s limitations because of the small sample size and the short time frame covered, but she also said the survey still provides a useful snapshot of what is happening inside unsafe homes during the pandemic.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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