The surge in domestic violence that Longmont experienced during the pandemic is only getting worse, both in terms of its quantity and quality.
The Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley saw an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic and since then, the spike has shown no sign of slowing down, according to Jackie List, executive director of Safe Shelter. Instead, the kinds of domestic violence that are reported seem to be growing increasingly dangerous, List said.
The United Nations defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” Types of this kind of abuse are manifested physically, sexually, emotionally, economically or psychologically, and include any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender, and it can occur within a range of relationships, including couples who are married, living together or dating, the UN’s website states.
Moreover, a report by UN Women in Feb. 2022 found that an estimated 763 million women worldwide — almost one in three women — have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life.
Pre-pandemic, Safe Shelter had traditionally been able to rely on a yearly routine wherein they’d receive increased reports of domestic violence around mid January, which would slow down after August, Vasquez described.
However, despite the expectation of a dropoff in reports of domestic violence at some point as the pandemic winds down, Safe Shelter’s numbers are steadily increasing.
Specifically, the number of people who come to Safe Shelter to report being raped have swelled, and an overwhelming amount of the reporting individuals initially don’t understand that it’s possible to be raped by a longterm significant other, according to Mary Jo Vasquez, a bilingual outreach advocate at Safe Shelter.
Additionally, “strangulation during sex has also been on the increase, which is particularly concerning given the lethality attached to strangulation,” List added.
After the Gabby Petito case — which revealed that she’s been strangled to death by her partner — garnered national attention in August 2021, domestic violence experts began speaking out about the heightened risk of domestic homicide that prevails once strangulation becomes a component in domestic violence cases.
“A woman who has been assaulted in such a way by a partner has a sevenfold risk of being murdered by that partner,’” Doctor Eve Valera, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies intimate partner violence and brain injury, told USA Today on the topic of domestic strangulation.
At Safe Shelter, Vasquez and other advocates focus on providing confidentiality as well as education related to the kind of domestic violence victims have experienced.
While Safe Shelter advocates said they never outright ask victims if they’ve experienced “rape” or “strangulation,” “based on the information we get from victims, we move into education and encourage them to be seen by a medical professional,” Vasquez said.
When it comes to strangulation, “we know that the harmful aftermath (to one’s health) can come up days after the assault,” Vasquez said. “… Not to mention the high risk of domestic homicide that experts say becomes more likely once strangulation is introduced into cases of domestic violence.”
At Safe Shelter, “we don’t recommend that victims do anything in particular and we don’t encourage them either way when it comes to reporting their cases to law enforcement,” Shana Hageman, the legal services coordinator at Safe Shelter said.
“However, if they decide to report the assault to police, we walk with them every step of the way and support them throughout the process,” Hageman added.
While the Longmont Police Department, or LPD, saw only a four percent increase in the number of domestic violence reports between 2019 and 2020 — 915 cases were reported in 2019 and 952 in 2020, according to an LPD statistics report — Vasquez notes that the relatively small spike seen by LPD may have to do with domestic violence victims not wanting to disclose to law enforcement, opting instead to pursue confidential services.
Moreover, the number of reported sex crimes to LPD “often ebb and flow,” according to Detective Sergeant Todd Chambers, who’s also been the supervisor of the Persons Crime Unit for the past five years.
“Sometimes (LPD) gets several reports in a short period of time, sometimes they drop off, sometimes they’re steady,” Chambers said.
Similarly to Safe Shelter, when a victim reports domestic violence or a sexual assault to LPD, the department doesn’t pressure the individual when it comes to pursuing an investigation or pressing charges, Chambers said.
Although Chambers and advocates at Safe Shelter hope that victims of domestic violence will come forward and utilize their support resources, they also recognize the array of reasons that victims frequently don’t report their assaults.
According to Chambers, such reasons might include the domestic violence or sexual assault victim feeling frightened, embarrassed, in denial or they’d rather not deal with it, he said.
Nevertheless, “(LPD) wants people to come forward if they feel like they’ve been victimized,” Chambers said, “so that we can attempt an investigation and do due diligence as best we can.”.
Similarly, Hageman said, “we all know that it’s happening more frequently than what’s being reported. But there are resources out there to help and support victims.”