Local agencies say ‘Stay Home’ doesn’t equal ‘Stay Safe’ in regard to domestic violence, sexual assault

CEDAR CITY — After the ‘Stay Safe, Stay Home’ directive issued by the governor to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, local organizations that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault saw a significant increase in the demand for domestic violence and sexual assault survivor services.

Katie Townsley stands in solidarity with rape victims on the campus of Brigham Young University during a sexual assault awareness demonstration Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Provo, Utah. | File photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Brant Wadsworth, executive director of Canyon Creek Services in Cedar City, said the increase is not surprising for the organization.

“This is kind of to be expected if you’ve got situations where domestic violence is happening,” he said. “Then you put pressure on that situation by having people closer in proximity to each other for much longer periods of the day, and then you add on top of that some of economic consequences that may be happening, or the other stress factors that come into play: it’s a recipe for pretty significant increases in domestic violence.”

Wadsworth added sexual assault incidents are likely to increase as well.

“A lot of sexual assault happens between people who already know each other in some way,” Wadsworh said. “Its not surprising to us that this kind of an order would result in increases in sexual assault, as well as domestic violence.”

Canyon Creek Services has reported a 21% increase the use of its services, a 38% increase in the number of calls to the 24-hour hotline and five times as many sexual-assault hospital responses compared to this time in 2019.

Canyon Creek’s Awareness and Prevention Director Kaleigh Bronson said survivors do not have the option of going to school or work to distance themselves from abusers.

“For so many survivors, that’s really where they’re able to escape the abuse that’s happening in their home,” she said. “When we don’t have those options anymore with school cancellations and stay at home orders and people telecommuting, that can be a recipe for disaster for a lot of people.”

Wadsworth said although the organization is not protesting the requirements of the preventative measures, it is difficult to meet the need for services in the community.

“It’s a very significant and serious and pressing issue for us, of how do we serve this significant increase in the number of people who need us, with a limited amount of resources, human resources, and monetary resources and otherwise,” he said. “Also, how do we serve them as we also comply and we fully support and comply with these restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Members of the Bald Eagle Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution make protective masks to donate to the Canyon Creek Crisis Center and Cedar Health and Rehabilitation, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Valerie King, St. George News

Despite restrictions on operations, including the loss of volunteers, Wadsworth says “we’re committed to keeping our services available to those who need them.”

He added the community support is vital to the organization to keep providing important services like advocacy and counseling for survivors.

“Support from the community means a lot and is needed now more than ever,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to provide every survivor that reaches out to us with what they need and in order to continue to do that we do need the ongoing support of the community, particularly right now in the form of cash donations – that will make the biggest difference for us and also allow us to keep people safe during this unprecedented time.”

Bronson added the pandemic demonstrates the severity of needed services and prevention efforts in the community.

“This really illustrates a lot of realities that so many people in our community face and how we really should be orienting our efforts and our energy towards preventing violence before it ever happens in the first place,” Bronson said. “We can use public health models and strategies to address violence perpetration and create safe and happy communities and families.”

Wadsworth added that domestic violence and sexual assault can be treated similarly to the coronavirus, and prevention efforts could therefore be similar as well.

“There are simple and straightforward things that citizens in the community, leaders in the community, influential people in the community can be a part of that can prevent domestic violence and sexual assault with the same ideas,” Wadsworth said. “It is a public health crisis and it can be prevented and reduced if we all collectively agree to participate in it in the same ways that we have been participating in the preventative efforts for COVID-19.”

To raise awareness for sexual assault and domestic violence, Canyon Creek helped the Iron County Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Coalition with the Clothesline Project. Clotheslines have been put up in Cedar City, Enoch and Parowan with items of clothing created by individuals who have been impacted by abuse and violence.

‘We are expecting our numbers to increase as well’

John Houston’s Gospel Choir performing a musical number at “Shine a Light on domestic violence: A candlelight vigil” in St. George, Utah, Oct. 10, 2018 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Markee Pickett, communications manager for the Dove Center in St. George, told Cedar City News that although the center’s statistics do not reflect an increase in the demand for services, she does expect them to.

“We do expect those numbers for the demand for services to increase because of what’s happening,” Pickett said.

Pickett said the expectation for demand to increase is based on what is occurring throughout the state, including a spike in domestic violence arrests in northern Utah.

Pickett also said the center’s numbers may not reflect an increase as a result of survivors facing additional barriers to reaching out for services.

“I would say that we aren’t surprised that our numbers are low right now because, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, they already face a lot of barriers especially in reporting,” Pickett said. “The social isolation and having to be basically quarantined at home with their abuser is adding even more barriers.”

Canyon Creek Services and the Dove Center are both continuing to provide services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Canyon Creek Services can be reached at 435-867-9411, and a 24-hour hotline is available at 435-233-5732.

The Dove Center can be reached at 435-628-1204, and also provides a 24-hour hotline at 435-628-0458.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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