Calls to statewide domestic violence hotline up as Minnesotans stay home

Those fleeing violent homes exempt from COVID-19 stay-at-home order

A closure sign on the playground.
A closure sign on the playground at Global Arts Plus in St. Paul on March 26, 2020. With schools now closed and Minnesotans asked to stay home to help slow the spread of COVID-19, advocates say they are getting an increasing number of calls to a statewide domestic violence hotline.
Megan Burks | MPR News file

At a briefing Monday, Gov. Tim Walz stressed that the state's stay-at-home order does not apply to people who are experiencing abuse and need to flee their homes. Across the country, advocates have worried the isolation and stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic would put victims of domestic violence at greater risk.

“Our survivors are increasingly isolated, and isolation is a tactic that domestic abusers already use,” said Elsa Swenson, who works with survivors as program manager of the Home Free Community Program in northwestern Hennepin County.

Survivors can reach advocates like Swenson through a statewide crisis hotline called Day One. Last week, it saw about a 25 percent increase in calls compared to this time last year, said Colleen Schmitt, director of programs for Cornerstone, the nonprofit that manages the hotline.

Schmitt said January through March is typically a quiet time of year because children are in school. Calls then increase to about 100 a day during summer break. With schools now closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Schmitt said she’s seeing summertime call levels.

Despite widespread closures, help is available to those seeking help. Nonprofit advocates are still working, shelters for people experiencing domestic abuse are open, and courts are processing protection orders.

"While we are working with less resources than normal, advocates are working on overdrive to make sure people get what they need,” Swenson said.

Swenson spoke with MPR News host Tom Crann about how the pandemic is affecting her work. Click play on the audio player above to hear it.

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