Break the Cycle: Domestic violence killings on the rise, COVID-19 pandemic increasing needs for survivors

Domestic Violence Awareness

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 10 On Your Side is committed to “Break the Cycle” of domestic violence. Every Wednesday in October 2020 we will tell the stories of domestic violence survivors and victims.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — It’s been more than three years since Rosalee Parker was murdered, but her daughter says she can still see her mother’s smile and hear her laughter.

“It’s bittersweet,” her daughter, Tiffany Diggs, said. “I can laugh because I can look at the picture, and I can hear her voice. I can smell her scent. It’s just crazy how none of those things ever leave you.”

Rosalee Parker’s children said the 61-year-old woman planned to leave her husband of 14 years before he shot and killed her in a home in the 7700 block of Wickham Avenue on May 11, 2017. Lilton Batten, 61 at the time of the shooting, was a convicted felon and not supposed to have a gun. He confessed to killing his wife when he turned himself in at the Newport News Police Department. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in November 2017, and was sentenced to life in prison.

“He will never get out, but I still don’t feel like he received a punishment,” Rosalee Parker’s son, Tracey Parker, said. “That is going to be what God is going to have to do with him.”

Rosalee Parker was one of 447 people who died as a result of domestic violence in Virginia between 2010 and 2017. More than 80% of those victims were women.

A gun was used in more than 60% of cases, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

VDH couldn’t provide data on domestic violence homicides beyond 2017.

VDH Family Violence Programs Manager Dr. Dane De Silva said the agency is working to enter killings that happened between 2018 and 2020 into the National Violent Death Reporting System database.

“Death reviews are retrospective, so the cases need to be closed before we can review them,” De Silva said. “That lag period allows for those cases to be closed and for us to review them concurrently.”

VDH’s data shows that domestic violence homicides in Virginia rose between 2012 and 2017 after steeply declining between 2010 and 2011.

Jonathan Yglesias, policy director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, said that intimate partner homicides have continued to increase slightly, and that the need for survivor resources has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re seeing the severity and frequency of violence within the home increase during the pandemic,” Yglesias said. “We noticed a really dramatic uptick in the number of calls, texts, and chats that were getting to our statewide hotline.”

Hotline calls, texts, and chats increased by 76% between March and April 2020 compared to the same time in 2019, Yglesias said. During this time, jobs, schools, and governments abruptly shut down due to COVID-19.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the alliance also received reports from sexual and domestic violence agencies across Virginia: 46% reported increased demands for services, and 87% reported “significant shifts” in staffing to help survivors in need.

“The length of advocacy time that they were spending with survivors was increasing as well,” Yglesias said.

Yglesias said that advocates are working to implement more education and prevention services across the state that could help stop domestic violence before it becomes fatal.

“The best form of victim services is stopping this violence and preventing it before it can ever occur,” Yglesias said.

A big win for advocates came during the 2020 Virginia General Assembly in the form of a new state fund to support sexual and domestic violence prevention in local communities; however, the money deposited from the state budget into the fund was redirected to other emergency needs during the pandemic, Yglesias said.

“The pandemic not only decimated a lot of our daily lives,” Yglesias said. “It also decimated our state budget, and so the deposits that were made into that sexual domestic violence prevention fund unfortunately had to be redirected to other emergency needs .. So we are going to be asking for deposits into that fund [in 2021] that would support community-based sexual and domestic violence prevention programs.”

Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine also worked with lawmakers to include emergency funding for domestic violence programs in the CARES Act in March. In September, the senators also announced the approval of $5.1 million in federal funding for community programs in Virginia that aim to reduce domestic, dating, and sexual violence. The YWCA of South Hampton Roads in Norfolk received $369,340 of that money through the Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Program, according to a news release.

“COVID, because it accelerates the tension and stresses and makes these challenges worse, so some additional funding during this time period is needed, but we ought to have a robust Violence Against Women Act 24/7, 365, whether there’s a global pandemic or not,” Kaine said.

Rosalee Parker’s family continues to honor their mother through advocacy and their organization, the Friendship Lottery.

Tiffany Diggs’ message to survivors is simple: “The same hand that holds you will not be the same hand that hurts you. Your life matters.”

If you or someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, you can reach out to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance hotline. Call 800-838-8238, text 804-793-9999, or send a chat.

10 On Your Side has also put together a list of local and national resources for domestic violence survivors and their families.

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