Emergency rooms seeing more severe injuries for domestic violence victims

Updated: Apr. 23, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Domestic violence advocates say emergency rooms in Central Virginia are seeing higher numbers of victims walking in with more serious injuries than before the pandemic.

This comes as many law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth, and nation, have reported a sharp increase in the number of cases over the last year.

The Bon Secours’ Forensic Nursing Team has reported a 21% increase in the number of victims reporting strangulation year over year. It’s a number that’s left domestic violence advocates concerned about what’s happening behind closed doors since the start of the pandemic.

“This was one of those areas that already public safety was going to be keeping an eye out for,” said Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor.

Since then, reports have shown domestic violence cases rising since March of 2020.

“With people being out of work, kids being at home, everyone just being on top of each other, and unemployment - all of these things just get poured into a little bottle, and sooner or later it’s going to explode,” said Carol Adams, a domestic violence advocate and Founder of the Carol Adams Foundation. “That’s what’s happening.”

Adams added, data has also shown the level of violence is becoming more aggressive.

“We look at guns, we look at knives, becoming more and more aggravated,” she said. “The response is where the person is just losing it.”

“When you are angry you are not thinking clearly, and you are not going to be a responsible person which is why firearms cannot be around in those situations,” Taylor said.

By law, if a victim files a protective order against his/her abuser, that offender is not allowed to possess a firearm, according to Taylor.

On Monday during a virtual roundtable discussion about gun violence prevention, Adams stated when a firearm is brought into a domestic violence situation, a result of homicide is five more times likely to occur.

“Every month an average of 53 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and nearly one million women alive have reported being shot or being shot at by their partner,” Adams said Monday. “Four-and-a-half million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.”

Meanwhile, the seriousness of injuries coming into emergency rooms now is more severe than in the past. Specifically, the number of reported strangulations.

“It’s a very lethal form of violence,” said Dr. Bonnie Price, Administrative Director of Community Health at Bon Secours Richmond. “When someone is strangling another person, oftentimes the intent is to kill that person.”

Price said more than 50% of those cases may not show signs on the outside, but impacts could be elsewhere.

“Could have damage on the inside which could cause really serious things like strokes,” she added.

In 2012, the Virginia General Assembly strengthened the law when it comes to strangulation; now it is a Class 6 felony.

“Victims of violence in situations of domestic violence or inter-personal violence, if they remain with their offender who strangles them, they are 800 times more likely to die as a result of a homicide in that relationship,” Price said.

The 2020 public police statistics do not break down the type of assault, but in Henrico, there was a nearly 13% increase in felonious domestic assaults; Chesterfield an 11% increase, and in Richmond a decrease of 13% overall in domestic aggravated assault cases.


In 2019, Henrico County Police responded to 5,322 calls for service that were cleared as domestic-related calls; in 2020 that number was 5,653.

Henrico Police also reported the following criminal charges:

Strangulation offenses192174
Stalking offenses1010
Violations of family abuse protective orders205174
Violations of non-family/household member protective orders5457

“It’s going to take all of us to make a difference here and we can’t continue to turn a blind eye,” Adams said. “We have to be in this fight to help support.”

Meanwhile, advocates are also concerned about the impacts this violence has on children in the household.

“In some cases, the violence will shift from the victim to the children,” Adams said.

According to Price, data from her forensic nursing team shows the number of child abuse cases has dropped during the pandemic, but there may be more behind those numbers.

“Most experts will tell you they think it’s because children do not have a safe person to tell because they’re not in schools where they would usually tell guidance counselor or teachers,” she added.

However, Price added the number of strangulation incidents being reported by children is increasing, likely due to better screening measures.

Advocates are urging families to check on their loved ones to ensure they are safe.

“People are shameful, and they don’t want to talk about it,” Adams said. “We all know our family members and their behaviors; if you have a family member who is experiencing domestic violence whether they’re the receiver of the giver, take the time to step in and intervene, because everyone needs help, and they need care. The perpetrator doesn’t want to perpetuate, but something has happened to them in their lives and triggered them to behave that way.”

The following domestic violence resources can be found in Central Virginia:

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