Staying at home is not always safer for everyone, domestic violence prevention advocates say.

Brittany Robb, executive director of Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center, said staff cringed when they heard the mandate for Minnesotans to stay at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Safe Haven is the only shelter for Carlton County residents since Window Victim Services in Carlton closed. Safe Haven serves seven counties.

The organization has seen an 11% increase in calls since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Robb said.

Disturbance calls to the Cloquet Police Department from Jan. 1, 2020 through April are up by 26 calls compared to the year prior, said interim Cloquet Police Chief Derek Randall. The Carlton County Jail has had 10 more arrests for domestic abuse from Jan. 1, 2020 through April 14, 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, said Paul Coughlin, Carlton County Jail Administrator.

"There is an increase, which is being seen around the state, and it's not surprising given people being in their homes together more, and with the added stressors of the pandemic such as financial strains, fear of uncertainty, etc.," Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said.

Day One, Minnesota's 24/7 statewide crisis hotline, saw calls increase by an average of 21% per day since March 15, said Becky Smith, communications director at Violence Free Minnesota.

But Smith said she is also concerned about people who are not seeking help. Lack of access to technology means calls can decrease, but that does not mean abuse or violence is not happening.

“People may not have access to a phone to reach out because their abuser is controlling access,” Smith said.

Taysha Martineau is a member of the Gitchigumi Scouts, a grassroots group of Native Americans who work to protect the vulnerable in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The group started in 2017 and has been active in the community and on social media.

Martineau said while they have seen men and women in abusive situations, they primarily see women between the ages of 23 and 30. The Gitchigumi Scouts have also had more calls for service since the pandemic began.

“There has been a definite increase in abuse,” Martineau said.

However, she said more people seem willing to intervene since the pandemic began.

“We see people getting involved, opening their homes for survivors and communities no longer staying silent,” Martineau said.

A young woman who the group recently helped told a neighbor about the abuse she was enduring, but she didn't have a phone. Martineau said the neighbor set a phone on the porch and the woman used it to call the Gitchigumi Scouts.

Many women go back to abusive relationships because they think they have no other choice, Martineau said.

“It’s not only physical — these men have a hold on them emotionally and spiritually,” Martineau said. “Many of these women have been groomed to believe that they will never do better or that in some way they’re in debt to their abuser.”

For family and friends of a victim, it's often hard to stick with that person, but Martineau said it's necessary.

“Speaking from past experience, I know that tough love does not work,” Martineau said. “Acceptance and understanding is all we can give these women in order for them to trust us. We’re going to be there with them through the entire process.”

Smith agreed.

“If someone discloses they are living in an unsafe situation at home and are experiencing abuse and/or violence in their relationship, the most important thing to do is to be supportive and believe them,” Smith said.

Signs of domestic abuse

The following may be signs someone is experiencing domestic abuse. Their partner:

  • Tells them they can never do anything right
  • Shows extreme jealousy toward their friends, time spent away
  • Keeps them from seeing friends or family
  • Insults, demeans or shames them
  • Controls money spent in the household
  • Controls who they see, where they go, what they do
  • Threatens to harm or take away their children
  • Prevents them from working or attending school
  • Intimidates them with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressures them to have sex when they don't want to
  • Pressures them to use drugs or alcohol

Source: National Domestic Violence Hotline

Where to get help

Gitchigumi Scouts: Call or text 218-464-3082 or message the Gitchigumi Scouts Facebook page.

Day One Crisis Hotline: Call 1-866-223-1111 or text 1-612-399-9995.

Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center: Call 218-728-6481 for the 24-hour crisis line.

Dabinoo’Igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter: Call 1-218-722-2247

Strong Hearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-762-8483 or 1-844-7NATIVE

National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: Call 1-866-331-9474

National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733