Spending more time with family has been a silver lining for many during the stay-at-home order. The closed-in conditions and extra time with loved ones may bring many families closer together, but for those experiencing domestic violence, it can be a nightmare.
More time at home, less connection with a social circle, and greater stress caused by job loss and financial hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional pressure on already strained relationships, according to Peggy Stewart, an adjunct professor of adult mental health and wellness at USC.
“People are getting very bored, they are getting frustrated and angry, so this is contributing to an increase in [domestic violence,]” Stewart said in a phone interview with Intersections South L.A.
Two days after California’s stay-at-home order was implemented, the Los Angeles Police Department received 244 service calls related to domestic violence incidents. This represents a 240% increase in the daily average of domestic violence calls in the month before the stay-at-home order was put in place, according to CrosstownLA’s analysis of LAPD’s dataset.
Marie Sadanaga, the Los Angeles Police Department’s domestic abuse response team coordinator, told Intersections South L.A. in a phone interview that because domestic violence is often hidden away from others and seen as a private issue, the numbers may be even higher. She added that conditions that prevent victims from being able to report may also be made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, as perpetrators can keep victims isolated at home and prevent them from reporting or asking for help.
“I think we haven’t seen the total number, even though we have seen a small increase,” Sadanaga said. “What a perpetrator is trying to do is to [exert] control over the victims, isolating them from families and friends.”
Many organizations in South L.A. recognize the dangers posed by being at home for families at risk of domestic violence and are continuing to offer support to those in need.
SHIELDS for Families is an organization that aims to protect high-risk families in South L.A. from a variety of issues including domestic violence. SHIELDS, considered an essential service, has been allowed to stay open during the lockdown.
Valeria Vega, program director for SHIELDS’ ASK/PAS, which stands for ask, seek, knock and prevention and aftercare services, told Intersections South L.A. via a phone interview that “SHIELDS has a [peer support] number that [they] give all the families” to help minimize any potential anxiety they may be experiencing.
Those who need help from SHIELDS can submit a message through their website and choose to either receive a cell phone or email response from the organization, whichever is safest depending on the individual’s current situation. SHIELDS then puts the person in contact with someone who can help them in their area.
The L.A. LGBT Center, which recently opened a location in South L.A., also provides services for those facing domestic violence. The available resources they offer for victims of domestic violence are listed on their website and include referrals to LGBT-sensitive shelters, LGBT-specific legal services, and temporary restraining orders. You can submit a request for domestic violence help on the LGBT Center’s website. The center also accepts phone calls at 323-993-7500.
Alternatively, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a resource available to domestic violence victims 24/7. Individuals who are experiencing domestic violence can call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to speak with domestic violence experts and advocates at any time of day on any day of the week.
Despite these resources being available for domestic violence victims, additional concerns remain that may prevent victims from getting help. CarolAnn Peterson, professor of social work at USC, told Intersections South L.A. in an interview that despite the numerous readily available resources, it may be hard for people experiencing domestic violence to even ask for help because their actions and contact history may be tracked by abusers.
“The problem is that they can't use the phone. Even calling the [National] Domestic Violence Hotline still means that they could be seen and/or heard on the phone,” Peterson said. “They can't use the computer because even using the computer abusers will track the history.”
The LGBT Center’s resource page attempts to address this issue with a warning that reads, “use a safe computer (a public library computer, for example) since using the Internet leaves an electronic trail.” While these suggestions may be helpful in normal times, during the time of a pandemic, they are nearly impossible to put into use since libraries are closed.
However, pandemic-era solutions are also available for domestic violence victims who want to seek help without leaving an “electronic trail” for their abusers to find. A call can be deleted from a cell phone’s history. For directions on how to delete an iPhone’s call history, click here. Directions on how to delete an Android’s call history can be found here.
Stewart stressed the importance of keeping shelters and organizations open during the pandemic so that victims aren’t left without the crucial help they need.
“We need to keep every resource available and open for any kind of abuse, because if we close those resources or we shut them down, the victims have absolutely nowhere to turn,” Stewart said. “They become more isolated, and they experience even a greater sense of loss of the identity.”