For many domestic violence victims living with their abusers, getting coffee with a friend or grabbing the kids from school can be a needed break. But advocates say with the COVID-19 quarantine orders in place, some victims may be in an untenable situation.
“That freedom is so important, that release valve is so important,” said Nilda Valmores, executive director of My Sister’s House, a Sacramento domestic violence nonprofit. “Everyone talks about isolation, isolation, isolation, and that’s the exact opposite medicine for abuse. To deal with abuse people need to come out of the closet, people need to network and find support, to know that they’re not alone.”
Approximately 40% of California women experience physical intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, according to the California Women’s Health Survey, and three quarters of women who’ve been victimized say they had children at home.
My Sister’s House is one of several nonprofits in the greater Sacramento area that are still working crisis lines and providing remote counseling. Valmores says they saw a 17% uptick in calls this March, compared to last March. Click here for a list of hotlines and other resources.
“We just know that if there are stressed out parties in the house, it’s very possible that explosions of anger are gonna occur, and that means abuse is gonna occur probably more in the physical form,” she said.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says there has been a “horrifying surge” in domestic violence globally since COVID-19 lockdown policies took effect.
A woman died in Mendocino County last week after being attacked by her husband, who had numerous arrests for domestic abuse.
Democratic Asm. Jim Wood, who serves the area, says this death illustrates the need to reach out to domestic abuse and sexual assault victims during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
“If you know of someone or see someone experiencing or vulnerable to this abuse or assault, please seek advice about how you can help,” said Wood in a statement. “These folks are more vulnerable than ever during this period of isolation and greatly depend on others to protect them.”
Ashley Carnicello, deputy director of an Amador County domestic violence and sexual assault nonprofit called Operation Care, said COVID-19 likely exacerbates the feeling of hopelessness that many victims already grapple with.
“And then you add that fact they are isolated and they can’t go out and they can’t go to work, or the abusers can’t go to work so they’re constantly under the same roof with their abuser, and there really is no relief,” she said.
Carnicello says nonprofit agencies can help domestic violence victims get to a safer location if needed, or guide them through making a get-away plan for when they are ready to leave. She also advises victims to call law enforcement if they are in danger.
Many agencies have text and chat options for victims who are not comfortable making a phone call while an abuser is in the house. Valmores of My Sister’s House says counselors can help victims take steps to protect themselves during the isolation period.
“If an explosion occurs where they can be the most safe in the house or in the apartment?” she said. “Can you make sure someone calls them and checks on them?”
She recommends friends or family members establish a password with the victim so they have a way to communicate when a situation is escalating.
The California Partnership To End Domestic Violence, a statewide advocacy group, is calling on policymakers to increase funding to domestic violence organizations and create more housing options and financial help for victims in light of COVID-19.
Here are some resources for Sacramento-area victims and their loved ones:
- Find a map of California domestic violence organizations such as My Sister’s House, including hotlines and websites, here.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
- Contact the California Partnership To End Domestic Violence during business hours for help finding local programs at (916) 444-7163.
- Access safety planning resources here.
- Find a guide for friends and loved ones of domestic violence victims and survivors here.
See more tips for protecting domestic violence victims during COVID-19 here
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