RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When COVID-19 started to affect North Carolina and stay at home orders were issued, domestic violence agencies across the state predicted the move would result in an increase of cases. After several weeks in lockdown, monthly data is starting to come in and organizations are seeing a surge of new reports.
"Initially, our numbers seemed to be averaging around 70 calls per week when the pandemic started," explained Tashs Sullivan, senior director of Interact in Raleigh. "We are now seeing anywhere from 100 to 120 calls per week of people reaching out for our systems."
Sullivan said the increased calls for help have also become much more severe. "They're not generally just calling for information or just to kind of have someone to talk to. They are calling because they are in need of help right then. Where can they go? What can they do?" Sullivan said.
Sullivan said because stay-at- home orders can make it more difficult for victims to have the freedom to reach out for help, Interact has started a chat feature on their website to make it easier for those in need to connect.
Interact is also working more closely with law enforcement. "We have a partnership with many of our law enforcement agencies called the lethality assessment program," Sullivan explained. "So, when they are responding to a domestic violence call, they are making sure to talk to the victim and ask her a question that kind of assesses how high risk she is and connect her over the phone with us."
The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence said the increased requests for services is being experienced at organizations across the state.
"We have seen unfortunately some of our worst predictions coming true in certain areas," said Sherry Honeycutt-Everett, NCCADV legal and policy director. "And, although a lot of data is only available on a monthly or annual reporting basis, we're seeing some staggering increases. Compass Center in Orange County is reporting over 100% increase in request for emergency housing as compared to last year at the same time."
In response to the need during the COVID-19 pandemic, NCCADV has started a Night of Safety Fund to help provide safe emergency shelters, as well as gift cards for groceries and telephones for safe communication.
With the uptick in cases in domestic violence, safety advocates are working to get the word out that help is available during the stay-at-home restrictions and courts are open for emergency issues, including domestic violence protection orders.
Under Gov. Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order, victims of domestic violence are expressly permitted to leave their homes to seek help and get to a safe environment.