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Ottawa County sees 30% spike in domestic violence incidents, disputes during COVID-19 pandemic

Police and family advocates say isolation is one factor contributing to the rise.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — As people stay home attempting to flatten the novel coronavirus curve, instances of domestic violence are increasing in Ottawa County. 

Between March 11 and April 19, domestic disputes and domestic violence calls are up just over 30 percent compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office. Deputies have responded to 204 disputes and 344 violent incidents. 

"We suspected we would have an uptick in [these] disputes just by the virtue of people being together more frequently than they were when people were out of the house working," Capt. Mark Bennett said. "That turned out to be quite the case."

RELATED: Domestic violence cases spike 48%; prosecutor calls it a worrisome trend

The sheriff's office has not made any amendments to enforcement of these crimes during the pandemic, Bennett said. 

"If you are suspected of committing domestic violence, or the officers are able to establish probable cause, you're going to be custodially arrested," he said. "In fact, you're going to be taken jail."

Isolation is a common tactic abusers use when trying to control a partner, and its magnified during the stay-at-home order, said Megan Hennessey, a program director at Resilience.The nonprofit, located in Holland Township, works to reduce and prevent domestic and sexual abuse in Ottawa and Allegan Counties.

RELATED: Domestic violence agencies say stay at home order can be dangerous

"We've seen a 66 percent increase in emergency shelter requests [during the pandemic]," Hennessey said. "Our shelter has been full for a while now, and we're working with the community to find other confidential rental spaces we can use to house people trying to leave abusive or dangerous situations."

When the home doesn't feel safe, she added, people often turn to other places in the community like church or work – which are not possible escapes right now. 

Police are referring victims to services like those offered by Resilience and the county, Bennett said. 

"We have therapy that we're offering via webcam or phone," Hennessy said. "Our 24-hour helpline is still running, [we do] case management and we're also offering virtual support groups." 

Survivors of domestic and sexual abuse can receive free and confidential support on at all hours by calling 1-800-848-5991. For Spanish, call 1-866-728-2131.

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