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Fewer domestic violence reports through pandemic in Harford County, but cases are more severe, police and advocates say

Beyond the risk of contracting the coronavirus, public health experts were concerned that the pandemic could lead to more instances of domestic violence as school closures and government orders confined families to their homes. But in Harford County, the opposite appears to be true, with reported and charged domestic assault instances slightly down from the prior year’s count.

Though the total number is lower, this year’s cases tend to result in more serious injuries and charges, according to Cristie Hopkins, a spokesperson for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.

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“Initially, we thought with everyone being isolated and quarantined that we would see an increase in cases. We did see an increase in the severity of cases, but not in the overall number,” she said.

According to data supplied by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Jan.1 to Sept. 30, 2019, saw 894 reported domestic assaults. In that same period, 593 adults were charged for other domestic-related incidents like assaults, stalking and protective order violations.

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Despite the pandemic cloistering families, the county’s domestic violence metrics are lower this year than last. From Jan. 1 to Sep. 28, 822 domestic violence-related assaults were reported to the HCSO. During that time, 549 people were charged with domestic-related crimes.

Through the pandemic, the sheriff’s office did not change its procedures for responding to domestic violence calls, providing the same level of service. As of now, Hopkins wrote, the office does not know why the numbers are down.

According to Harford County’s Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center — abbreviated SARC — about one in four women and one in 10 men report experiencing some form of intimate partner violence each year. According to the organization, other ares are seeing increases in domestic violence. The issue is highlighted during October — Domestic Violence Awareness Month, according to a flyer from SARC — and some Harford businesses and restaurants plan to light their buildings up in purple to bring awareness to the issue. Those establishments will also have informational materials available for county residents to spread the word that services area available.

Neala Lancellotti, development director for SARC, said intimate partner violence is difficult to track; reported and charged incidents of domestic violence are only one indicator. While those numbers are down, she said that demand for SARC’s services — like its hotline, legal services and counseling — are increasing.

There was, initially, a dip in demand for the services as the pandemic began, but more have been requesting services as Maryland relaxes its coronavirus restrictions and people begin to go out more, Lancellotti said.

“If you are at home and isolating with your abuser, things can certainly escalate in those situations,” she said. “You are adding another component, which is a pandemic, on what is already a stressful situation.”

The most important thing, through the pandemic, is letting county residents know that SARC’s resources are still available and safe to access, Lancellotti said. Walk-ins are still open to county residents, and extra precautions against the virus are being taken.

“We are still here; our services are still here," she said. "Reach out.”

Last fiscal year, the organization had over 3,000 callers to its 24-hour help-line, which can be reached at 410-836-8430.

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