LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - “Victims are running for their lives; we want to get you safe,” said Elizabeth Wessels-Martin, CEO of the Center for Women and Families.
That has been the daily battle for victims of domestic violence. Since March 13, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Louisville and for the majority of 2020, victims have been trying to do all that’s possible to live to see another day.
“We all said the same thing, when we were seeing a drastic decrease, and that was a grave concern to us, because that meant (victims) couldn’t reach us, reach out, couldn’t leave and get services they needed,” Wessels-Martin said.
The notion that victims were stuck inside with their abusers or perpetrators weighed heavily on employees at the Center. Advocates say more often than not, that would lead to a more violent situation at home.
During the pandemic, Louisville has experienced its own set of high-impact issues like the civil unrest and record-breaking homicide numbers.
“When I do see those numbers, what are they exactly?" Wessels-Martin asked. "Are they domestic violence situations and somebody has gotten killed?”
Wessels-Martin has been wondering for the last several months. Kentucky Rep. Regina Huff, R-82, is expected to introduce legislation during the January session to separate homicide numbers. Wessels-Martin said it would help advocacy groups track homicide numbers by whether incidents were due to domestic violence or otherwise.
Already this month, investigators said a Louisville-area murder-suicide stemmed from an abusive domestic relationship. WAVE 3 News spoke with the victim’s mother after the shooting. The Center for Women and Families has seen an average of three to six victims per day, women looking for a way out. The Center shared statistics from July 2019 to June 2020: 6,144 victims were helped, 515 were sheltered, 7,747 calls were made to the Center’s hotline, and 904 victims were taken to the hospital.
Martin said the Center is finding it’s not just hostile behaviors like manipulation and abuse; the pandemic has been used as a fear tactic.
“(Abusers) have power and control of the victim,” Wessels-Martin said. “(The abuser has) got (the victim) believing what (the abuser) tells (the victim). (The abuser) tells them, ‘you’re going to go out there and you’re going to die.'”
The best way to save lives during this tough year, Wessels-Martin said, is to be a neighbor.
“We’ve really pushed the message out, for family and friends, co-workers, check on people, check on people," she said.