A Bath student who won first place in a local essay competition donated half his winnings to a local nonprofit offering resources to people impacted by domestic violence, a problem amplified by the pandemic.
Isaac Ensel, a rising senior at Morse High School in Bath, donated half of his $500 prize to New Hope for Women, a nonprofit offering advocacy, prevention and education services to people affected by domestic abuse, dating violence and stalking in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties.
“We’ve seen an increase in need, phone calls and electronic contracts, and the extent of the need has increased,” said New Hope For Women Executive Director Rebekah Paredes.
According to Paredes, the organization received 2,707 calls in fiscal year 2019 totaling 984 hours on the phone. The following year, the nonprofit received 3,263 calls, totaling 1,530 hours.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were worried that victims were sequestered in their homes with their abusers,” said Paredes. “Younger generations are more likely to text or send a Facebook message, so we instituted a chat line, and we encouraged victims to reach out electronically.”
In 2019, the organization received 388 electronic contacts including emails and messages on Facebook. The following year, that number rose to 1,071 electronic contacts, showing a 51% increase.
In addition to the number of calls and contacts the nonprofit fielded, Paredes said one of the most notable increases in need appeared in the duration of time victims needed emergency shelter, one of the organization’s more common services to victims who need to escape a violent environment.
Prior to the pandemic, victims in need of emergency shelter would need to stay for about one week on average, according to Paredes. During the pandemic, the average length of time a victim would need emergency shelter grew to five to seven months — an increase of 2,100%.
Despite the increased need for domestic violence resources New Hope for Women found during the pandemic, Bath police haven’t noticed an increase in domestic violence calls or charges.
According to Bath Police Chief Andrew Booth, the number of “family fight” calls the department responded to during the COVID-19 pandemic stayed about level to what police saw in years prior. However, of those calls, the number of domestic violence charges that resulted from those calls, decreased during the pandemic.
In 2017 and 2018, Bath police responded to 82 and 89 family fight calls, respectively. Of those calls, police issued 26 domestic violence charges in 2017 and 22 charges in 2018, according to Booth.
In 2019, Bath police responded to 84 family fight calls, resulting in 19 domestic violence charges. In 2020, again, 84 family fight calls were made to Bath police, resulting in only 11 domestic violence charges.
“The callers we work with don’t always start with the police,” Paredes reasoned. “Oftentimes, we’re their first call and we talk about what options they have available to them. Police are called if there’s an emergency situation.”
Ensel won first place in the Maine Youth for Progress essay contest organized by the Sagadahoc Democrats.
Essayists were asked to write about what they believe is the biggest challenge facing the nation and what can be done to help. Ensel and the second place winner, Emma Roth-Wells of Georgetown, wrote about the issue of rampant misinformation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, science became bipartisan because people were arguing over objective truth,” said Ensel. “For me, it was frustrating but fascinating to watch. This is a pandemic that’s dangerous to humans and our goal is to get rid of it, but some people doubted the pandemic in the first place, which got us nowhere.”
To help solve the issue of spreading misinformation and disagreeing over what’s true, Ensel suggested people of all ages learn to listen to one another’s ideas, gather their information from multiple sources, and do their own research.
“In a progressive, evolving world, being close-minded doesn’t benefit you or anyone around you,” said Ensel. “If you approach something already believing it’s wrong, then that doesn’t help anything. When I talk to my friends now, I learned not to go into the conversation believing they’re wrong, but try to understand why they think they’re right.”