Iso­la­tion could raise the risk of do­mes­tic abuse

Ex­perts say seclu­sion, stress from pan­demic may worsen al­ready strained re­la­tion­ships.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Laura New­berry and Nicole Santa Cruz

One evening last week, a 38-year-old wo­man showed up in the emer­gency room of a Los An­ge­les hospi­tal. She had been beaten by her boyfriend.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the hospi­tal would con­tact a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ad­vo­cate, who would meet with the wo­man in per­son and help her find shel­ter and other ser­vices. But that night, be­cause of lim­i­ta­tions on vis­i­tors and health guide­lines due to COVID-19, an ad­vo­cate had to con­nect by phone.

About a dozen calls later, the wo­man was placed in a shel­ter.

“We got lucky this time,” said Yvette Lozano, the chief pro­gram and op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for Peace Over Vi­o­lence, a non­profit fo­cused on end­ing in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ship vi­o­lence. “It’s re­ally hard to find an im­me­di­ate place­ment for some­one in need.”

Lozano and other ad­vo­cates worry that the changes to ev­ery­day life brought on by the COVID-19 pan­demic — stay-at-home man­dates, job losses and school clo­sures — may worsen al­ready strained re­la­tion­ships, lead­ing to in­creased rates of do­mes­tic abuse. Oth­ers are con­cerned that those who are suf­fer­ing may be less in­clined to re­port a crime or

reach out for help.

“For some­one who is in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, this is kind of a worst-case sce­nario,” said Alyson Mes­sen­ger, a man­ag­ing staff at­tor­ney with the Je­nesse Cen­ter, a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or­ga­ni­za­tion based in South Los An­ge­les. “Com­pound that with the fact that ac­cess to ser­vices is more dif­fi­cult than ever.”

This night­mare for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims has al­ready played out else­where. The num­ber of such in­ci­dents in China has risen sharply as peo­ple across much of that coun­try have been quar­an­tined, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese news sources.

Al­ready, the Na­tional Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Hot­line has be­gun to field some highly dis­tress­ing calls as quar­an­tine mea­sures have been im­ple­mented, said the hot­line’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Katie Ray-Jones.

One wo­man said her part­ner threat­ened to throw her out onto the street if she showed any symp­toms of COVID-19. An­other said her part­ner vowed to pre­vent her from seek­ing med­i­cal care if she be­came sick.

Al Prov­inziano, a fam­ily lawyer in Los An­ge­les, said calls to his firm re­lated to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence dou­bled last week.

“Peo­ple are say­ing that they can’t be­lieve they’ll be stuck with their abuser, and that they don’t know how they’re go­ing to get through this pe­riod of quar­an­tine,” Prov­inziano said.

The idea that stress and iso­la­tion lead to higher rates of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is not new. Dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion in 2008 and 2009, the Na­tional Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Hot­line fielded many calls from those in long-term abu­sive re­la­tion­ships who said the vi­o­lence against them had grown more in­tense, said Ray-Jones.

Re­search has found a re­la­tion­ship between nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and in­creased rates of in­ter­per­sonal vi­o­lence, es­pe­cially among house­holds that ex­pe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial strain. Af­ter Hur­ri­cane Andrew, a

Cat­e­gory 5 storm that made land­fall in South Florida in 1992, spousal-abuse calls to Mi­ami’s helpline in­creased by 50%, re­searchers found. In L.A., ad­vo­cates saw do­mes­tic vi­o­lence rise in the af­ter­math of the 1994 Northridge earth­quake.

The con­cern isn’t that quar­an­tine will cause nor­mally peace­ful part­ners and par­ents to sud­denly be­come abu­sive. Rather, it’s likely that widespread iso­la­tion and stress-in­duc­ing con­di­tions — such as job loss and feel­ings of help­less­ness — will in­crease the num­ber and sever­ity of such in­ci­dents in house­holds that have al­ready seen a cy­cle of vi­o­lence, ad­vo­cates say.

“Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is rooted in power and con­trol,” Ray-Jones said. “When an abuser loses that power con­trol, they tend to exert or take that out on the vic­tims in their re­la­tion­ship.”

At the same time, sur­vivors will be less able to break away from the sur­veil­lance of their abusers. And those who might have stayed with ag­ing par­ents are less likely to do so now, as the el­derly are far more vul­ner­a­ble to the ef­fects of COVID-19.

It’s es­ti­mated that more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in the U.S. each year, and the num­ber of homi­cides re­lated to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence has been on the rise since 2010. In L.A. County, as over­all homi­cides have de­clined, the num­ber of women slain has steadily risen.

In­come loss might also make it more dif­fi­cult for vic­tims to leave. Some­one who has saved money in or­der to ex­e­cute an es­cape plan may now be forced to use that cash in the face of job loss or a re­duc­tion in hours.

And when vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence aren’t out in the com­mu­nity, the red flags of abuse are less likely to be no­ticed by friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

“We get re­ports through schools or hos­pi­tals that some­body has had a phys­i­cal in­jury, but kids aren’t go­ing to school right now, and peo­ple are avoid­ing hos­pi­tals,” said Tara Peter­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the YWCA of Glen­dale.

The East Los An­ge­les Women’s Cen­ter uses hun­dreds of trained pro­mo­toras, women who ed­u­cate their com­mu­ni­ties about healthy re­la­tion­ships, to con­nect with those in East and South Los An­ge­les who are most at risk for vi­o­lence, said Bar­bara Kap­pos, the cen­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. Now, the women can’t meet weekly and in-per­son to help those who may be the most re­sis­tant.

In re­sponse to COVID-19, the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment last week closed front desks and walkup ser­vices to “en­sure so­cial dis­tanc­ing,” a move that wor­ried those who work with vic­tims and de­pend on po­lice to re­port abuse.

The county courts are still open for es­sen­tial func­tions, which in­clude pro­cess­ing pe­ti­tions for emer­gency do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence re­strain­ing or­ders. Judges may still is­sue emer­gency pro­tec­tive or­ders at the re­quest of law en­force­ment, which can lead to the tem­po­rary re­moval of an abuser from a home.

If vic­tims are seek­ing a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der or an emer­gency pro­tec­tive or­der, they can go to their lo­cal sta­tions and will be as­sisted, said LAPD As­sis­tant Chief Robert Ar­cos in an email.

Each sta­tion has a night­watch de­tec­tive avail­able to assist do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims, he said, and teams that re­spond to such in­ci­dents will con­tinue to be de­ployed. As of Mon­day, Ar­cos said, he hadn’t seen an in­crease in calls for ser­vice.

Mean­while, or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide ser­vices to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims and sur­vivors in L.A. County are forced to be cre­ative in serv­ing their clients.

In-per­son sup­port groups have been re­placed by vir­tual ones. Ther­a­pists are de­ploy­ing code words with their clients to keep them safe. Al­though many shel­ters are full across the county, hot­lines are avail­able.

Patti Gig­gans, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Peace Over Vi­o­lence,

said her staff of about 70 is work­ing re­motely. Coun­sel­ing and staff meet­ings have been con­ducted vir­tu­ally.

“We’re com­mit­ted to not aban­don­ing any peo­ple who are on our caseloads,” she said.

Car­men McDon­ald, di­rec­tor of le­gal ser­vices at the Los An­ge­les Cen­ter for Law and Justice, wor­ries that vic­tims now will be less likely to seek ser­vices. Al­ready, she said, she’s see­ing a de­cline in new clients and re­quests for le­gal as­sis­tance.

“We know what is go­ing on with our clients, but we don’t know what’s go­ing on with the other folks who need ser­vices,” she said.

It is still un­cer­tain how shel­ters for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence will be af­fected by the pan­demic. But some warn that it may be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to find a spot at an emer­gency shel­ter.

Elizabeth Eastlund, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Rain­bow Ser­vices in San Pedro, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s tran­si­tional and emer­gency shel­ters are full and aren’t cy­cling peo­ple in and out due to the un­cer­tainty of the pan­demic. If clients don’t have a solid plan for where they will go next, they’re not leav­ing.

Peter­son said the YWCA of Glen­dale’s small shel­ter for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims is open and a hand­ful of its 12 beds are avail­able. The YWCA will pro­vide vouch­ers for ho­tel rooms once the shel­ter is full.

The Glen­dale shel­ter is not screen­ing res­i­dents for the coro­n­avirus but does have a des­ig­nated, pri­vate space for any­one pre­sent­ing COVID-19 symp­toms.

Though or­ga­ni­za­tions that help sur­vivors do not ex­pect to halt ser­vices any­time soon, the pan­demic has al­ready af­fected their fi­nances. The YWCA of Glen­dale had to can­cel its big­gest fundraiser, sched­uled for April.

“We rely on that money to be able to be nim­ble and pro­vide ad­di­tional re­sources,” Peter­son said. “We are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion daily, but we’re con­cerned about be­ing fully op­er­a­tional if this goes on longer than a cou­ple of months.”

Francine Orr Los An­ge­les Times

AT THE YWCA in Glen­dale, Hous­ing Pro­gram Su­per­vi­sor Magda Sel­lon and oth­ers are help­ing vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence via video­con­fer­ence or phone.

Francine Orr Los An­ge­les Times

SUP­PORT GROUPS such as those typ­i­cally held at this room at the Glen­dale YWCA are now be­ing of­fered via Zoom. “We’re com­mit­ted to not aban­don­ing any peo­ple who are on our caseloads,” said one ad­vo­cate.

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