For 10 weeks this year, Virginians were asked to stay home to a great extent—a quarantine that might have helped to reduce serious crime in Loudoun, but increase occurrences of domestic abuse.
Gov. Ralph Northam issued his stay-at-home guidance on March 30 and extended it to June 10. That encouraged residents to remain at home as much as possible during that time, keeping them off the highways and away from bars, restaurants and other social venues but, for some, trapped at home with abusive family members.
According to Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office Kraig Troxell, the number of major offenses decreased by about 13 percent from Jan. 1 to May 31 this year compared with that same time last year. But conversely, the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter reported an all-time high in the number of people it sheltered from mid-March to mid-June.
Troxell said serious crime, like homicide and rape, in the first five months of 2020 decreased by 11 percent compared to the first portion of 2019. He said the county also saw a 15-percent decrease in less-serious crimes, like DUIs, so far this year. The Sheriff’s Office isn’t directly attributing those decreases to the coronavirus crisis and subsequent state mandates, though.
The Sheriff’s Office also reported a decrease in the number of traffic citations written in the last few months. But according to Troxell, deputies aren’t out trying to pull more drivers over now that state mandates have been lifted a bit.
Just as the governor’s stay-at-home order could have led to a decrease in a good deal of crime and traffic offenses, it also might have led to the 12-percent rise in domestic assaults. The Sheriff’s Office reported 262 such incidents from Jan. 1 to May 31 this year, compared with 234 during those same five months in 2019. Troxell said this year’s higher number of domestic assaults are at about the same level as they were by the end of May in 2018.
“That [stay-at-home order] definitely could be attributed to those numbers,” he said.
Of course, the numbers represent only those domestic assaults that have been reported. Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter Executive Director Judy Hanley said her organization has seen the most dramatic spike in the number of people it sheltered year-over-year than it’s ever seen before.
From March 12, 2019 to June 16, 2019, LAWS sheltered 14 people fleeing imminent danger from domestic violence—seven adults and seven children. During that same period this year, it sheltered 68 people—30 adults and 38 children. LAWS has never sheltered that many people during a three-month span.
“It’s a huge increase in seriousness of the number of people who need to flee their home,” Hanley said. “That to me speaks volumes of the difference COVID has made.”
Hanley said the 12-bed shelter prior to the coronavirus crisis met LAWS’ needs well, but now it’s too small. She said the organization is currently sheltering 29 people in safe housing.
“Our shelter is not big enough at this time,” she said.
And some people may have needed help, but have been unable to ask for it.
Hanley also pointed out that the number of calls to the LAWS hotline noticeably increased once Northern Virginia entered the second phase of reopenings June 5. She said that most likely was the result of people finally having the chance to leave their homes to make calls in privacy.
In addition to an increase in the number of people fleeing domestic abuse, the Sheriff’s Office has reported an increase in the number of auto thefts and robberies in the first five months of 2020. Auto thefts are up from 55 incidents to 65, and robberies are up from 10 to 19. Troxell said this year’s robberies, however, are mainly drug-related and aren’t the types of crimes that might come to most peoples’ minds—like someone robbing a convenience store at gunpoint.
Troxell said now that Loudoun is in the second phase of reopenings and Northam’s stay-at-home order has expired, it will be tough to say whether a potential rise in the number of crimes committed in the coming months can be attributed to those factors or the warmer weather bringing more people out of their homes.
But in general, Troxell said the Sheriff’s Office continues to see a drop in crime year-over-year.
Hanley said LAWS is now conducting a needs assessment to determine if its existing shelter is adequate, which should wrap up this fall. She said she expects the assessment to confirm that the current shelter is inadequate, which will prompt LAWS to form a committee to find a more appropriate shelter.
Those seeking shelter from domestic abuse are encouraged to call the LAWS hotline at 703-777-6552.