SIOUX FALL, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been two weeks since Governor Kristi Noem declared a state of emergency in South Dakota, closing schools, limiting gatherings and encouraging everyone to stay home. This period of isolation and social distancing is all in an effort to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state.
The message to stay home is hard to miss; state and local officials are reminding people every day to stay home to help keep you and your family safe. But that directive designed to protect, could also mean there’s no escape.
“Unfortunately a lot can happen behind closed doors,” Sioux Falls Police Department Domestic Violence Detective Logan Eilers said.
Right now, everyone is spending the majority of their time behind closed doors.
“I think that adds a level of danger for victims because they can’t escape and also their perpetrators are probably going to be more violent during this time,” Michelle Trent, the clinical director of The Compass Center said.
Michelle Trent works with survivors of domestic violence and abuse at the Compass Center in Sioux Falls. She says many professionals in the field are worried what this period of isolation will mean for domestic violence.
“Part of abuse is power and control, so that abuser is definitely going to look for ways to use this virus as another means to control someone else,” Trent said.
“My concern now is the communication is a lot more limited, and I have noticed, at least over the last week, the communication that I have had has decreased unfortunately a lot more,” Detective Eilers said.
Eilers says the victims she works with usually have a safe time during the work day to reach out for help.
“A time they can communicate with me without their abuser necessarily finding out about it or knowing about it,” Eilers said.
“When a perpetrator goes to work it gives victims an opportunity for safety, it creates a time that they can call someone and talk about what has happened, or go some place and talk about whats happened so it creates safety with that, and then it also just creates that physical space,” Trent said.
Right now, many people are either working from home or out of work altogether.
“We’re talking about people losing jobs, unemployment rates being high,and we know that unemployment and financial stress directly contribute to violence in a home, so the expectation is, we may not know until this is over what impact this has had on domestic violence,” Trent said.
In just two weeks of increased isolation, Detective Eilers says she’s already seen n increase in her case load. but she’s also very concerned about the abuse that will go on unreported during this time.
“The physical abuse is more difficult to hide, especially in public,” Eilers said. “The issue we’re going to run into now, is we don’t have that public setting anymore.”
That’s also true for children who no longer have direct contact with their teachers, one of the first lifelines for detecting abuse.
“When a child goes to school, they have other adults that are available to them to talk about the things that are happening,” Trent said. “When you’re at home and you’re in isolation and you’re only required to be with your family, you don’t have access to those other adults.”
The current directives to stay home with immediate family only also means victims won’t be able to see extended family or friends who can also help identify a problem.
“So people who may normally see changes or some concerning things, might not get a chance to see that now,” Eilers said.
But in this season of closed doors, neighbors can still make a big difference.
“What we really need in times like this are people who are willing to call the police and provide as much information as possible,” Eilers said.
Whether you see something unsettling or hear an argument coming from next door, notify police so they can at least check it out.
“When I was on patrol I had gone to many houses where we went and checked on all of the parties involved, and it was a verbal argument, there were no issues, everybody was safe. There were other times it was a loud television, it could be something as simple as that,” Eilers said.
“But there were also many occasions where there was a physical dispute going on and they were in a very dangerous situation and the person who called just to be safe, was very grateful they called to report it.”
Even if you don’t sense immediate danger, just letting a neighbor know your door is always open can help save a life.
“This is a rare opportunity that we have in the world to connect with people around us, so this might be an opportunity to open doors to victims that they might not have had before,” Trent said.
“We’re going to really need to rely on each other over the next several months so that nobody is alone during this already difficult time period,” Eilers said.
The Compass Center and The Children’s Inn, a safe shelter for victims, will remain open to anyone in need of help throughout this period of isolation.
“It appears that the world is closed, but Children’s Inn is never closed; they will take victims, they will working with victims, we will work with victims to get them the help they need,” Trent said.
If you or someone you know needs help. call police or the domestic violence hotline at 605-338-4880.