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Report: Phoenix Homicides, Aggravated Assaults Have Jumped 25%

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Concerns about an increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic — and more people being at home in close quarters — were widespread when stay-at-home orders were implemented over the past several months. [On Aug. 7], the Phoenix Police Department  released new information on violent crime. Homicides and aggravated assaults have each increased by more than 25% from January to June of this year when compared to 2019 numbers. [The Phoenix Police Department] won't definitively conclude those figures are directly related to the pandemic. To learn more, I'm joined by Jenna Panas, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Jenna, what are your general observations about whether domestic violence cases have increased and become more alarming during this time of COVID-19?

JENNA PANAS: Certainly. So I know this has been an ongoing conversation in the direct service fire community in domestic violence. That we did have some months where calls for shelter were down, and, so very concerned that folks weren't seeking out shelter because of the virus. We also know that folks staying at home are increasing isolation, increasing fear, increased stress, which creates situations in which domestic violence rates are going to increase as a result. That isolation, I think, is, is likely one of the causal factors to the rates of homicide that we've seen. We can't know for sure, obviously, since this is just a statistic and we don't have research to back up our, our conclusions here. But it does make sense to the provider community that the increased isolation, the inability for victims to access both public and private resources could be a causal factor.

GOLDSTEIN: How worried were you about this possibility when the stay-at-home orders were issued?

PANAS: We were all very concerned. At the very beginning, when stay-at-home orders were issued, one of our largest concerns was making sure that victims were aware that services were still in place, that services weren't closing. So when we, we saw courts close and in some instances of even police stations having to close, we, we really wanted to make sure that the victim community understood and knew that shelter services were still open, community-based services were still open, that those resources were still available to them. Unfortunately, though, with, with everything closing down, kind of at the same time, I don't know that that was as transparent as we would have hoped.

GOLDSTEIN: Does a situation like the pandemic, does it reveal something that may have been under the surface or does it make a situation that was already bad, worse, introduce domestic violence when it perhaps hadn't been there before?

PANAS: I think it's a 'both, and.' Unfortunately, with, with situations like this, what we're doing is increasing traumatic stress in the home, and that can worsen situations where violence are already — is already present, but can also introduce violence in which situate — into situations in which it wasn't present before. And so it is, it's both. And then it's coping skills that folks have with, with dealing with stress like this. I think all of us in our individual lives can see how this has been very difficult for all of us, even, even when we have robust family structures and robust friend networks and safety and security at work. And if you imagine what it is like for somebody who is missing even one of those resources, stress levels increase as a result, which can indeed lead to increased violence.

GOLDSTEIN: How difficult is it to see a situation like this worsening, especially in the position you're in when what you're trying to do is help in every way possible?

PANAS: So certainly when you're providing services, the last thing that you want to realize is that those services aren't being accessed by the folks that need them or that folks are slipping through the cracks, whether it's because they're unable to reach out or perhaps the services aren't targeted to them, specifically, because of the language that they speak or the population they belong to. But as far as reacting to the negativity of the situation, we have to have hope that things can get better, that we as a community can band together both against the pandemic as well as violence against women in general. And so we, we operate from a stance of optimism, if you will. So if that didn't work, what will? And finding the tools and the training to ensure that we can succeed and lessen these numbers rather than seeing them increase.

GOLDSTEIN: Jenna, are you seeing more community partnerships as these months have gotten hotter and more intense when it comes to this?

PANAS: Interestingly, yes, absolutely. So we provide services, of course, to the direct service providers within the community. And there has been just an outreach ever since COVID started of those service providers really providing peer support to each other, really ensuring that everyone has what they need, whether that is PPE or, you know, policy dealing with how to to do temperature testing for shelter residents. And so because none of us knew how to handle any of it, it really became a, just a collaboration and a work together to find best practices in this incredibly short time period. So these, these folks really just stepped up and did amazing work and have discovered, I think, new resources and new partnerships along the way.

GOLDSTEIN: Jenna Panas is CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. And you're listening to The Show.

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Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.