What COVID-19 Has Meant for Domestic Violence in California

California residents have been ordered to stay at home for nearly two months. While many residents find the COVID-19 response inconvenient or financially difficult, for the victims of domestic violence, the shut down may be as deadly as the disease itself. With news that the state may begin the slow process of reopening soon, advocates are pushing for domestic violence awareness to be part of the conversation.

For Domestic Violence Victims, Staying at Home is Dangerous

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the world home and told it to stay there. Cities, states, and countries have issued quarantines and stay-at-home orders restricting residents’ abilities to leave their homes for anything but the most essential needs. The California stay home order has been in effect since March 19, 2020. For spouses and partners in abusive relationships, that has meant two months of control, intimidation, anger, and physical violence.

Around the world, data suggests that the government responses to the pandemic have created conditions ripe for the spread of another public health crisis: increasing numbers and severity of domestic violence incidents. Marianne Hester, of Bristol University, says that domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, like Christmas or summer vacations.

The COVID-19 shutdowns add stress to mere proximity, and that combination has been baking for two months. Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline told the New York Times:

“We know that any time an abusive partner may be feeling a loss of power and control — and everybody’s feeling a loss of power and control right now — it could greatly impact how victims and survivors are being treated in their homes.”

Financial strain can also cause abuse to escalate, like it did during the economic downturn of 2008, in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and after Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Abusers feeling financial uncertainty and a loss of power may turn on their spouses and partners to regain that sense of control.

The stay-at-home orders also leave victims and children feeling like they cannot leave or get help. For years, teachers, counselors, therapists, and employers have been safe havens for those facing abuse. With schools and workplaces closed, it may be harder for victims to reach out for support. Abusers may demand that their spouses stay home, cancel appointments, or do teletherapy where they can hear what is said. This can stop victims from reaching out to get the help they need. Ana, from Spain, told the New York Times:

“‘I can’t even have privacy in the bathroom — and now I have to endure this in a lockdown,’ she wrote in a message sent late at night, to hide the communication from her husband.

California’s Stage 2 Offers Some Relief to Survivors

On May 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California would be moving into “Stage 2” of a 4-phase process of reopening businesses and resuming life as normal. This stage will allow retail, manufacturing, and other “low-risk” businesses to reopen if they are able to meet the state’s requirements for physical-distancing measures. This could be good news, as it means more domestic violence abusers will be going back to work, and victims will have more opportunities to leave their homes and get help without raising their abuser’s suspicions.

Closer to home, San Francisco residents may be waiting a little longer for relief. Newsom’s new executive orders allow cities and regions that have been hit harder to maintain stricter stay-at-home orders. The Bay Area’s guidelines are currently stricter than the state executive order, and it may take longer for the city to find the right balance of public health and reopening businesses. While several Bay Area counties also announced they would be easing restrictions on outdoor activities, outdoor businesses, and child care for essential workers, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city was not ready to reopen retail. Breed said these health directives were about “keeping people safe.” However, that safety relates to the virus only, and not the dangers they face at home.

You Don’t Have to Wait to Get Help

Even though the California state courts have been severely limiting their operations, the courthouse doors have never closed to the victims of domestic violence. All local courts are still hearing requests for domestic violence restraining orders. Travel to avoid domestic violence or child abuse has been considered “essential travel” since March 31, 2020. That means you can leave now and find safety for yourself and your children. You can also call 9-1-1 or your local police department if you think you are in immediate danger.

You don’t have to wait for the stay at home orders to be lifted to get help escaping domestic violence. At ADZ Law, LLP, we are open and available to help you escape domestic violence through protective orders, divorce proceedings, and serving as your victim’s advocate. We will stand beside you in court (in person or virtually) to help you prove your case and find safety for you and your children. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about our team, and how we can help you.