By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
With Californians ordered to shelter in place to stop the spread of Coronavirus, non-essential workers are trying to stay safe at home. For people who are never really safe at home, because of domestic violence or other forms of abuse, measures to combat the virus are endangering them in other ways.
In one of the first weeks of quarantining between March 17 to 23, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office received an increased number of calls for service regarding domestic disturbances. Officials at the office specified that it is too early to know if the growth in domestic disturbances is a trend, but experts worry that people sheltering with an abuser are more at risk than ever.
“For folks who are living with somebody who is a perpetrator of violence, who’s been abusive, these can be scary times,” said Verna Griffin-Tabor, the CEO of the Center for Community Solutions.
There are worries that abusers can use the crisis to further isolate and control their victims.
“For domestic violence [and] intimate partner violence, this is about power and control. When survivors are forced to stay in the same house or close proximity with somebody who’s creating harm. This allows the perpetrator to sometimes have unique impact on survivors, such as withholding hand sanitizers or disinfectant, creating more fear and providing this information to survivors around the pandemic, withholding things like insurance cards or health insurance to prevent survivors from seeking any kind of medical attention,” Griffin-Tabor explained.
The Center for Community Solutions (CCS) has 10 local sites in San Diego as well as three emergency shelters. The shelters have special protocols in place to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, including ending the use of communal kitchens in one of their shelters with individual apartment units.
The court system has also put in place special protections for domestic abuse survivors, including a 30-day extension to restraining orders set to expire. CCS is in contact with judges and attorneys who are doing virtual restraining order hearings even while courts are closed.
While there are efforts from the district attorney and sheriff to get inmates out of jail where coronavirus could spread dangerously, only non-violent inmates awaiting court hearings have been freed. People arrested for domestic abuse during the shelter in place order will remain behind bars.
District Attorney Summer Stephan has also tried to bring attention to local resources for domestic abuse victims which are compiled on the website preventdv1.org/ along with a quiz to determine someone’s risk for domestic violence.
“We acknowledge the necessity of Gov. Newsom’s order, but want to be sure we provide a lifeline to those who may be at increased risk of violence at the hands of an intimate partner,” Stephan said in a press release. “Additional stressors such as losing a job and kids at home due to school closures can be triggers for domestic violence. We want people who are seeing warning signs of abuse or who are being abused to know that we stand ready to help them and that they shouldn’t suffer in silence.”
At least in the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, CCS did not experience a rise in the number of calls to the local hotline the way the Sheriff’s Department did, but Griffin-Tabor said the people calling are needing more resources than normal. Griffin-Tabor does not think this pattern will hold.
“It’s early on in the crisis and our experience has been, during immediate crises, people tend to get through. What we see is, the longer things go on, our concern is we may see an uptick in calls for help,” she said. An example she gave was calls increase after wildfire evacuations or the holidays where an extended period of time home occurs.
There are currently open shelter beds for domestic abuse survivors. CCS units are being limited to one family, instead of sharing space. While they are able to accommodate less people, those beds could fill up.
Griffin-Tabor urges people to call the domestic violence hotline to create a safety plan to survive the crisis, including how to protect important medical documents.
For emergencies, call 9-1-1. For anyone affected by abuse and needing support, call the national hotline 24 hours per day at 800-799-7233. If you are unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 22522. The San Diego County Domestic Violence Hotline is 888-385-4657 (DVLINKS).
—Reach contributing editor Kendra Sitton at firstname.lastname@example.org.