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Domestic abuse hotlines report surge in calls, heightened needs

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Operators of domestic abuse hotlines across the state say more women are calling them in crisis, as pandemic stress has led to more violence at home.

Eric Stiles, a program director with the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, says they’ve documented an increase in survivors of abuse who have called their statewide hotline in 2021, compared to last year.

Stiles says operators also spent more time on the phone with women. He says many of the callers are in more vulnerable situations because they lost their job or car during the pandemic.

“That puts more of a strain on how does a person make the decision to either leave a domestic violence situation or to seek out resources for their victimization of sexual violence,” he says.

Juliette Schultz, the executive director of the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Traverse County, has also noticed many more calls to their hotline, which serves five counties in rural northwest lower Michigan. Last month, they saw a 250% increase in crisis calls compared to April 2020.

She says the number is high, in part, because fewer women than expected reached out when the state shut down last year. Schultz guesses women are less isolated now and have more opportunity to consider their situation.

“As restrictions started to ease, we were concerned about a surge in survivors reaching out to us, and that's exactly what we've seen,” she says.

Centers across the state say they received more calls as the state opened more during different points in the pandemic. Some survivors reported to hotlines they didn’t call sooner because they thought services wouldn’t be available during the pandemic.

Women have more to consider when leaving home during the pandemic, hotline operators say.

Schultz says the majority of their clients lost their jobs and many have faced financial abuse from partners.

Finding permanent housing, childcare and transportation are even bigger barriers because of pandemic-related shortages.

Still, many shelters have been full, with some centers putting up women and children in hotels until spaces open up.

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