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KARE 11 Investigates: Domestic abuse up during COVID-19 crisis

Advocates say they are getting more calls to a domestic abuse hotline as workplaces close down and Minnesotans stay home

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The phone is ringing at Minnesota Day One, the 24-hour domestic abuse crisis line run by Cornerstone. In the past week they’ve seen about a 25 percent increase in calls.

As the coronavirus crisis triggers a powder keg of financial stress, fear and isolation, advocates across the state and country who work with domestic abuse victims are concerned.

It started Sunday March 20, just days after Governor Walz ordered bars, restaurants and movie theaters closed.

Sundays are usually their slowest day, averaging 40 calls or so. Colleen Schmitt, Cornerstone’s Director of Programs, said that day calls spiked to around 70.

The group’s Executive Director Meg Schnabel said even making that call can be difficult for victims under current stay at home conditions.

“As more families are home together, it creates more challenges for a victim to be able to reach out if she does need to. It might not be safe at all,” Schnabel said.

She emphasized that the Day One Crisis Line serves all of Minnesota and will be available throughout the coronavirus stay home orders. Shelters will remain open as well.

RELATED: Walz issues 'Stay at Home' executive order for 2 weeks in Minnesota

Governor Tim Walz highlighted the problem in his daily COVID-19 briefing Monday. “We need to talk about this. Two-thirds of the police calls over the weekend were domestic violence related,” Walz said.

KARE 11 also checked with local police departments to find early trends. So far Minneapolis police have seen only a slight increase in domestic abuse calls over last March. St. Paul’s domestic abuse calls have held steady.

In Bloomington, Police Chief Jeff Potts has seen a “slight uptick” in calls.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s related to the stay at home,” he said.

Potts emphasized that stay home orders don’t apply to those escaping abuse.

“If someone feels unsafe in their home, there is an exception to the stay at home order and we encourage them to leave that environment and go somewhere else to be safe,” he said.

Schnabel from Cornerstone also worried that domestic abuse victims may feel torn between going out and risking getting sick or staying home and potentially being hurt.

“Someone in their estimation may feel like it’s not the right time to reach out to law enforcement or if they are harmed to an emergency room at this point. I think those are some of those isolating factors that we all have concerns about,” she said.

“We just can’t have that be the choice,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. That’s why she said Congress committed $45 million for domestic abuse shelters and programming anticipating a spike in domestic violence. “I think that’s why the shelters become more and more important. Why we advocated for this increased funding,” she said.

Klobuchar and other senators recently sent a letter to the Administration for Children and Families and the Office on Violence Against Women urging them to “ensure that the organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic violence have the resources and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic.”

At Cornerstone flexibility and funding will be key, Schnabel said, as they work to tackle this crisis.

Meanwhile their vital message to survivors remains the same.

“It certainly is not their fault. They are not alone and there is help available,” she said.

The number for Minnesota Day One Crisis Line is:

Call: 1-866-223-1111 Text: 612-399-9995 Please call 911 in an emergency.

RELATED: KARE 11 Investigates: Kindness during COVID

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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