(The Center Square) – Domestic violence was a public health crisis long before the pandemic, but the added stress just made it worse.
Statistics show that approximately one in four women and one in 10 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, Janelle Melohn, director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, told The Center Square. The added stress created by the pandemic has worsened the situation, she said.
“The ripple effects of familial violence stretch to schools, employers, communities, faith-based institutions and more,” Melohn said.
Survivors felt isolated due to lockdowns. A lack of access to mandatory reporters of domestic violence in schools and health care settings for children contributed to higher levels of violence. Other factors included loss of employment and increased tensions with every family member in the home more often. With less access to support services and the lack of emergency housing options, the state had higher levels of violence during the pandemic, Melohn said.
Acts of domestic violence cost Americans billions of dollars in health care, lost wages, therapy/counseling and other areas.
“We also know that trauma left untreated often leads to future issues for victims and witnesses to domestic violence such as addiction and other unhealthy coping mechanisms,” Melohn said.
The victim’s assistance advocate said greater investments are needed in supportive services. She said Congress must pass the VOCAFix and Violence Against Women Acts so funds are available, and victims and survivors have protections in place.
On the state level, Melohn told The Center Square that American Rescue Plan Act funds should help fund victim services in response to an increase in victims caused by the pandemic.
A 35% cut in federal funding in state grants through the Victims of Crime Act caused a $6 million decrease in federal victim services funds to Iowa this year, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence said on its website. That means 5,000 fewer crime victims will receive services from Iowa programs in fiscal year 2022, with a bigger cut in the next fiscal year resulting in 23,000 fewer victims served.
A critical need is to address the root causes of violence.
“Teaching children about what healthy relationships look like and investing in affordable health care, quality education, affordable housing, affordable legal services ... would all provide pathways to avoiding abusive situations and/or for getting out of abusive situations,” Melohn said.