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DIGGING DEEPER: Pandemic Violence

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TUCSON (KVOA) - According to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, more than 1-million Arizonans will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. For those Arizonans, staying home can be deadly.

"Leaving almost cost my life, when I tried to leave my relationship," Lauren Easter, a domestic violence survivor said. "So I can only imagine during the pandemic not being able to quickly access a shelter, or quickly access some of these resources."

Easter left her abuser long before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"I felt hopeless and I felt scared and I felt isolated that I was never going to get out of the situation," Easter said.

Now, as an empowered University of Arizona graduate student, mother and advocate she has been spending her time helping connect victims to resources.

"To be going through that in a pandemic, I can only imagine that only increases that sense of hopelessness," Easter said.

Negar Katirai, the Director of the Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the University of Arizona said calls for help keep coming in.

"I think there are a lot of people who are trying to leave during this time because it's been so difficult," Katirai said.

But shelters have had a different experience.

"When the stay at home order was put in place, we immediately saw a significant drop in the amount of people reaching out for services," Ed Mercurio-Sakwa, CEO of Emerge! said.

Mercurio-Sakwa told News 4 Tucson that all of Emerge!'s resources are available. Its emergency shelter is open and COVID-19 precautions have been put in place.

However, community-based services have suffered as they have gone virtual which can create more barriers for victims.

"If you're trapped at home with your abuser then it's very difficult to find that space to go online," Katirai said.

The Pima County Attorney's Office has experienced an up to 50% increase in domestic violence cases during some months compared to last year.

"Since March, it's about a 32% increase in the amount of felony-level cases coming through the Pima County Attorney's office," Joesph Ricks, Domestic Violence Supervisor for the Pima County Attorney's Office said.

Despite virtual resources, some cases have become more difficult to prosecute.

"We've noticed there are less victims going to the hospital (fearful of contracting COVID-19)," Ricks said. "It's a little bit different now…"

Ricks said victim advocates who would normally respond to the scene are not able to do that now, due to COVID-19 precautions.

In August, Governor Doug Ducey announced that help is on the way for domestic violence resource providers. They will receive financial help through the Arizona Coronavirus Relief Fund. Emerge! where Easter volunteers is expected to receive $35,000.

"Especially with the amount of increased cases that we are seeing, the reports that we are seeing," Easter said. "There are many people going through this. There is an alternative. There is a way out. There are resources available to help you achieve those goals."

Domestic Violence Victim Resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse resources

Domestic Violence Law Clinic at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law resources

How to file an Order of Protection in Pima County

Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence 'Get Help Now' webpage

Pima County Attorney's Office resources

Southern Arizona Against Sexual Assault resources

If you have a story you'd like for us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call or tip line at 520-955-4444.