While the Pittsfield Police Department received fewer calls related to domestic violence and sexual assault than in the previous year, observers don’t necessarily see that as a good thing.
Many believe that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened risks for violence and made it more difficult for survivors to report. They say underreporting, exacerbated by pandemic conditions, could offer a more accurate explanation for the trend than a decline in violence.
Because of travel and gathering restrictions, survivors might have fewer opportunities to report violence without perpetrators’ knowledge, and they might fear backlash if perpetrators find out they are making a report.
The decrease in police reports “only makes things scarier,” said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
“Especially when it comes to issues of domestic violence or child abuse, people are much more fearful of reporting,” Farley-Bouvier said. “When we lock down and you’re locked down with your abuser, it just adds all this stress.”
Although reports increased for some of last March and April, Pittsfield Police data shows fewer reports from March 2020 to February than in the previous year.
From March 2020 to February, there were 1,060 calls for service for domestic violence and 61 for sex offenses, as well as 321 domestic violence charges and 47 sexual assault charges.
During the same length of time the previous year, the department received 1,171 domestic violence calls for service and 77 sex offense calls, in addition to 575 domestic violence charges and 96 sexual assault charges.
“The only explanation that we can offer, similar to our community partners, is underreporting,” Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said in an email.
Meanwhile, the Elizabeth Freeman Center received a 48 percent increase in calls from July 2020 through mid-March. Calls tended to be more urgent, and “people were waiting until they couldn’t take it any longer to reach out for help,” Executive Director Janis Broderick had told The Eagle.
Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office also reports that perpetrators are inflicting greater harm in the cases that have been reported. Courts still are offering restraining orders, although filings in Berkshire County since July 1 have dropped 31.9 percent compared with the same period a year before.
The DA’s office considers anxiety about the pandemic, lack of bystander intervention and uncertainty over the availability of resources or court operations as possible reasons for the decrease.
The Elizabeth Freeman Center and the DA’s office remain open. The center’s 24/7 hotline can be reached at 866-401-2425, and the victim witness advocates hotline at the DA’s office can be reached at 855-275-8927.