Project DOVE, Malheur County’s domestic violence service and shelter has received an influx of calls from people quarantining due to Covid. (The Enterprise/Kezia Setyawan)

The pace of requests for help from Project DOVE, Malheur County’s domestic violence service and shelter, has picked back up again after months of quiet due to Covid, according to Executive Director Theresa Basford.

The decrease in calls, Basford said, was likely due to victims being “quarantined at home with their abuser” due to the stay-at-home order and rise in unemployment due to Covid. Often, Basford said, the biggest challenge for a victim of domestic or sexual violence is getting away from their abuser and seeking help.

Then, as “things started opening back up and people returned to work,” the organization saw its requests for services and calls return to normal amounts, she said.

“That’s just the reality,” said Basford. “We didn't turn anybody away. We didn't lock any doors. I mean, the services were there. I think it was more difficult, perhaps more challenging, for the victims to get away and get those services. But if they requested them, they received them.”

Basford said the agency never closed — only the lobby, which reopened on June 1, and its Unique Boutique, its retail store which “has just started opening back up.”

Project DOVE’s services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, emergency shelter, crisis intervention and a Women in Transition program to help survivors “rebuild self-esteem and gain new skills,” according to the organization’s website. Basford said all of its services continued throughout the pandemic.

“We, you know, (practiced) social distancing, wore masks, all of those things,” said Basford. “All of our shelter rooms and units, if they needed them, were sanitized and disinfected and deep cleaned regularly. And so our rooms here — the same thing.”

Keri Moran-Kuhn, associate director of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Portland, said the coalition, which represents Oregon’s 52 domestic and sexual violence advocacy programs, saw a sharp decrease in calls for services when Gov. Kate Brown first implemented the stay-at-home order in March.

She said they’ve seen calls for services drop with other incidents in the past, such as after 9/11 and the SARS pandemic.

“People kind of stay put, because you don't know what's going to happen next,” said Moran-Kuhn. “And so in the beginning, we saw things get really quiet and a lot of our domestic violence, sexual assault services were trying to figure out how could they provide services. And then we saw a decrease in the first two weeks of requests for shelter for domestic violence, emergency housing or other types of services.”

But Moran-Kuhn said calls to their crisis hotlines “went through the roof” when Covid hit.

“You know, staying at home to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, we also know that home is not safe for many adults and children — for children who can't go to school and get that break or for adults whose partner may not be going to work anymore,” said Moran-Kuhn. “When you're trapped at home with that person who's abusive at all points, it's a very dangerous time.”

According to data collected from March 16 to May 16 by the National Domestic Violence Hotline to see what callers reported during the peak of Covid, 90% of people contacting the hotline reported emotional or verbal abuse, which encompasses verbal aggression, intimidation, manipulation and humiliation. Physical abuse was reported by 61% of callers, which includes “non-accidental” use of force resulting in an injury, pain or impairment, such as being slapped, cut, bruised, burned or restrained. 

Economic or financial abuse, when one partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources, was reported by 24% of callers, and digital abuse was reported by 16%, which is when a partner uses technology to bully, stalk, intimate or harass a partner. 

Sexual abuse was reported by 11% of callers, which is “non-consensual sexual interaction through coercion, guilt or force” and can include “pressure to engage in sexual activity, refusal to use contraception or demanding of sexual images or video.”

However, Moran-Kuhn said some people called “who just really needed to talk to somebody about coronavirus or fears.”

Domestic violence and calls for services related to it are common in Oregon. Moran-Kuhn cited the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s one-day domestic violence count report, which showed that in a single day — Sept. 12, 2019 — 1,032 victims were served.

“So that was 637 adult and child victims of domestic violence were seeking refuge in emergency shelters, transitional housing or other housing provided by those local domestic violence programs,” said Moran-Kuhn. “And then 395 adult and child victims were receiving non-residential assistance, which that can look like counseling, legal advocacy, children's support groups, adult support groups.”

Further, 335 hotline calls were answered that day, which averaged 14 calls per hour, Moran-Kuhn said.

Moran-Kuhn said the coalition has concerns about what will happen if Covid cases surge and another stay-at-home order is put in place.

“The facts are that (our services around the state) were overwhelmed before, and they had a lot,” said Moran-Kuhn. “And we were struggling with things like housing, finding people permanent housing after being in emergency housing. You know, getting people in a safe and stable place is really key to breaking the cycle of violence and providing a space for your children to begin to heal.”

Despite economic setbacks due to Covid, Basford said Project DOVE is “pretty comfortably funded,” but its ongoing challenge being dependent on grants remains.

“Sometimes those pots come to us from Salem and, because of the metro area, when they get shipped out to the rural areas, those pots don't fit what we need as well as they might,” Basford said. “For instance, we might get a boatload of money to help with bus passes. Well, that doesn't really do us a lot — it's nice to have, but it doesn't really do us a lot of good on the rural side of this state.”

“But we haven't seen a shortage in funding as of yet,” said Basford. “I think the challenge for us is really going to be using them in the pots they assign them in.”

News tip? Contact reporter Bailey Lewis at [email protected]

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