Story by: Jeff Ferrell

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) – Domestic violence hotlines have seen a dramatic increase in calls across the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

At least part of that increase is blamed on unprecedented job losses and quarantines — which have forced victims and their abusers to spend even more time together.

Calls for help to those hotlines have gotten shorter and more frantic according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The logic goes that victims’ apparent window of opportunity to call for help has shrunk considerably ever since the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States.

To learn more, we asked two local agencies dedicated to helping the victims of domestic abuse: Family Justice Center and Project Celebration, Inc.

Project Celebration is a non-profit with two domestic violence shelters in the 7 parishes of northwest Louisiana. Community Outreach Advocate Chanel Willis told us their message to victims.

“That we’re here; rain, sleet, shine or snow, questions, comments, concerns if you’re unsure.”

An oft-cited statistic states it takes, on average, 7 tries before a domestic violence victim permanently leaves an abusive relationship.

Willis explained there are a number of factors that help explain why it is so difficult for a victim to leave an abuser.

“They would rather have that security,” she said. “They feel they have that home, they have that income. They don’t have to worry about food; simple things that people may not really even think about. It’s something they’ll have to worry about if they leave. So, they will go back.”

Willis, and others in Project Celebration, urge victims to place everything they need to leave in one bag that they can grab and go when the moment is right.

“Putting spare keys, an extra pair of clothing, important documents like birth certificates, social security cards because those are kinds of things some people may not think about when they just have to up and leave.”

Those are the items they’ll need to restart their life — and often those of their children — all escaping together.

The other agency helping victims of domestic violence in Northwest Louisiana is the Family Justice Center. Executive Director Jeri Bowen explained how they work with all law enforcement agencies in this part of Louisiana.

“Hoping to get victims, that may have been afraid to talk to law enforcement, if they need it or if they have talked to them and need to come back and do follow up.”

Bowen said they also work with the court system in Caddo, Bossier and nearby parishes for protective orders.

“Sometimes they’ve been able to remove themselves from the situation. But they need to know that they’re secure and being protected. They can come here and we can assist them with the legal documents.”

She explained that the Family Justice Center is not a law office — they don’t handle custody or divorce cases. What they do is help guide domestic violence victims through the legal system.

Bowen added that they too have seen calls into domestic violence hotlines become shorter and more frantic.

“I would say that our law enforcement officers, as much as we’ve talked about it with them, that most of their calls were domestic.”

While it can be easy to focus on the numbers, rising or dropping, the real suffering cannot be overstated. Bowen recalled a phone call that came in just hours before our visit.

“All she could tell us on the phone was how bad she was hurt,” Bowen said. “How she thought her nose was broken.”

Bowen said they instructed the woman to immediately hang up and call 911 for help. If she couldn’t, they offered to call on her behalf.

To get help, the local domestic violence hotline is (318) 226-5015. The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-7233.