Legal advocates warn about uptick in domestic violence during pandemic

JPD SUV on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016.
Juneau Police Department vehicle. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

The confined living situations introduced by the pandemic — while necessary for slowing the spread of COVID-19 — can increase the likelihood of domestic violence for some Alaskans.

Kelsey Eggert, a Juneau-based lawyer for Alaska Legal Services Corp., said reports of domestic violence are up.

“We’ve now seen an uptick in Juneau,” Eggert said. “After extended confinement in this very stressful situation in which the whole world has changed, there is an increase in domestic violence. And unfortunately, it’s also a lot harder to get help at the moment.”

“If you’re confined with your abuser, and they’re not leaving, how do you call a resource to get help or information?” she added.

Eggert recommends anyone experiencing domestic violence to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline — that number is 800-799-7233.

Having a safety plan is also a good idea, Eggert said.

“Have a person that you can text a certain word, and they know that you’re in trouble and they can maybe call the police for you,” she said. “Have a person who you can go to and stay on their couch for a bit if you’re really afraid.”

She said she often tells clients: “If you feel really unsafe, call 911.”

For community members who may know someone who has experienced domestic violence, Eggert recommended checking in with them.

“You don’t have to ask them if there’s been domestic violence,” she said, “but check in with them.”

Alaska Legal Services also deals with another area of concern for many Alaskans: a worsening financial situation. With reduced hours or not being able to work from home, paying bills and covering rent or a mortgage are suddenly more difficult.

For renters, a state bill passed to keep people who are struggling to make rent from being evicted. According to Alaska Legal Services Executive Director Nikole Nelson, court hearings for tenants who are behind on rent have also been stalled.

“The idea behind this is that we really don’t want people becoming homeless during a pandemic, because that’s not going to create a healthy situation for any of us,” she said.

That doesn’t mean renters are completely off the hook, however. Ultimately, tenants will have to agree on a repayment plan with their landlords. And Nelson recommends people struggling to pay their mortgage talk to their banks — further protections during the pandemic prevent banks from foreclosing upon homes right now.

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