Domestic violence crimes increase during pandemic

As people shelter in place, crime is decreasing in most categories. But not domestic violence. 

In fact, women and children stuck at home with an abuser, are more vulnerable than ever.

"Being able to get outside the home is often part of a survival strategy," said Donna Garske, Executive Director of the Center for Domestic Peace in Marin County. 

"The expectation now is that the victim has to actually live at the scene of the crime." 

It is a distressing prospect: no escape from abusers because of stay-at-home orders.  

Those who lead agencies across the Bay Area are conferring weekly on how to best respond.  

"I would say domestic violence is definitely going up at this time," said Orchid Pusey,

Executive Director of San Francisco's Asian Women's Shelter.

Not only have some 911 dispatch centers seen some spikes, but crisis line calls have slowed, which is even more alarming. 

"It's harder for people to make make calls right now, it's harder to have confidentiality right now," said Pusey. "So the violence is up even though the outreach might not reflect that."

Children are also more vulnerable to violence now, because school is where abuse is most often detected and reported, and campuses are closed. 

"We are also hearing, he can check my internet," said Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, Executive Director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence in Santa Clara. 

Crisis counselors offer safety strategies for those who are feeling trapped.

The turmoil is intensified by fear and frustration, substance abuse and financial stress. 

"People who are feeling powerless about their ability to find a job right now," said Peralez-Dieckmann, "and all those things exacerbate violence in the home, in a family." 

In the Silicon Valley, a "Safe Chat" service is offered, for when a phone call is risky. 
The South Bay also has a text line, another way to reach out, especially with most in-person programs shelved temporarily. 

"We've worked so hard to get people stabilized, we don't want to see them sliding backward," said Tracy Lamb, Executive Director of Napa.  Emergency Women's Services. 

She and other advocates are hearing from survivors who've found refuge in transitional housing.

Now, with rampant job losses, they are afraid they won't be able to pay their share. 

"We're hearing a lot of desperation in their voices when they're calling, concerned they won't be able to make the rent,' said Lamb. 

For most domestic violence victims, life during the pandemic won't be stable enough to make a major change. 

But for those who serve them, the essential work continues: moving families into safety and providing a safety net.

The experts recommend showing care and concern for those who may be suffering.      
"Support that friend or that neighbor or that person in your apartment building, who seems really upset in the laundry room," said Pusey, "but don't intervene from the outside until you know everything, you can't take those decisions away from survivors."  

What's most important is that victims know social services for them haven't stopped, even as so much else has. 

And although an abuser will likely exploit the isolation and fear generated by the pandemic, "COVID-19 is not an excuse to be violent," said Garske.