LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan is facing another public health threat on top of COVID-19: soaring domestic violence cases.

The Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, which represents 73 shelters across the state, has seen an outpouring of need from victims of domestic and sexual violence, Executive Director Sarah Prout Rennie said.

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“It’s all real desperate,” she said. “Where we’re at is we need massive investment in domestic violence shelters and sexual assault shelters to be able to prep ourselves for what we know is coming.”

In the year leading up to October, the coalition received 1,300 calls on its helpline. In the next two months it received 1,250 calls and then in January, it had 1,000 calls for domestic and sexual violence assistance.

The biggest surge hasn’t arrived yet, Prout Rennie believes. An inability to fundraise during COVID-19, having limited shelter space available and a statewide effort to limit incarcerations because of COVID has created a perfect storm of need and danger for victims.

Leaders in domestic and sexual violence programs all over the country predicted a year ago that victims would be in greater danger as states entered lockdown and people were shut in with their abusers. Once the states started to reopen and vaccines rolled out, calls for help were expected to go up as victims could escape abusers, able to gather up their children or important documents.

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During the pandemic Michigan focused on releasing vulnerable incarcerated people from prison and limiting pretrial incarceration. Between March and June last year, the state Department of Corrections reported a 1,958 prisoner population drop, about 5% of the state’s prison population, the result of efforts to allow eligible individuals to receive early release or parole to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As a social justice agency we’re in this weird position because we believe in reducing incarceration, but it’s definitely going to be a scalpel and not a chainsaw in these sort of sweeping reforms,” Prout Rennie said.

Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker echoed those concerns.

“There is a rush right now and there’s a lot of criminal justice reform and I’m supportive of that, but we’ve got to be careful,” Becker said. “Our victims, they’ve got to deal with these consequences that can be very dire.”

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