Domestic violence cases rise in Kent and Ottawa counties

In Kent County, domestic violence calls to police have increased 35% since the start of the pandemic, and domestic violence-related homicides are on track to double.

Kent and Ottawa counties are reporting an increase in domestic violence calls, and social service organizations say it’s a trend they’ve seen for years.

In Kent County, domestic violence calls to local law enforcement have increased 35% since the start of the pandemic, and this year domestic violence-related homicides are on track to double.

Leaders of West Michigan organizations hope their available social services and policy changes can help survivors.

“It’s important for our entire community to understand that domestic violence is a public health crisis right now,” said Rachel VerWys, CEO of Safe Haven Ministries.

Last year, the crisis called for Shelter Ministries are up 26%. VerWys says the complexity of these survivor appeals is also evolving.

“We are always evaluating security, and our defenders are spending double the time [on the phone] than before,” she says. “So in 2019, our average contact time with a crisis contact was 10 minutes, and now it’s over 20 minutes.”

Resilience – Advocates to End Violence observes a similar trend.

“For Ottawa County, applications for PPOs, or applications for personal protection orders, are on the rise and on the rise, and the prosecutor’s office has advised us that they are receiving reports of one strangulation per week, which shows an increase in lethality and risk of harm,” says Lesley Coghill, Systems Change and Prevention Manager.

To help survivors and other community members, Resilience is ending a series of online trainings on domestic and sexual violence.

This Thursday’s session focuses on gaslighting, a control tactic often used by abusers.

“It’s competency-based training,” says Coghill. “It’s also an affirmation, and if anything, I hope it helps people feel validated in their experience.”

“The escalation of violence is truly worrying,” YWCA West Central Michigan CEO Charisse Mitchell said.

She says it’s important to focus on resources for survivors, but also to draw attention to systems that are failing the community.

“What systems do we need to put in place so that people don’t resort to violence and resort to power and control? We ask ourselves: Why do people choose this violent behavior? and address that root cause and root problem, then we don’t have to ask ourselves, ‘Why didn’t she go?’” Mitchell says. “Because the violence shouldn’t happen in the first place? What are we putting in place to prevent this violence from happening?”

One of the systems she and other community leaders want to see is a domestic violence court.

“One of the things we’re working on right now is county ARPA funding, maybe we’re hoping to establish a domestic violence court for early intervention,” Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker said. “We would like to address those cases, those individuals who are at risk earlier, to perhaps prevent them. Because those are most likely the ones who are going to get caught up in a road homicide or even a more serious domestic violence offense. .”

Becker and VerWys say there is already progress by the courts to consider PPOs for survivors rather than mutual restraining orders.

“The courts are getting away from that, that was one of the things that [Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team] report identified, [that it] is not a good idea. You should have a victim if you want, and something that should be prevented from coming into contact with the victim. So steps have been taken in that direction,” Becker said.

“I hope this is something that our county commission can respond to and be part of building the solution to a problem that is staring us in the face,” VerWys said. “We don’t want to see more headlines that are homicides.”

Each organization has a 24/7 domestic and sexual violence helpline for people in need:

  • Refuge Ministries: 616-452-664
  • Resilience – End Violence Advocates: 800-848-5991
  • YWCA West Central Michigan: 616-454-9922

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