As local governments shut down businesses and lay out health orders that keep residents home to slow the spread of coronavirus, domestic violence is on the rise.
Long Beach has seen about a 25% uptick in domestic violence cases since the first stay-at-home orders were issued, officials said.
“We have seen an increase in our domestic violence caseload as a percentage of all cases. It is unclear what is causing the statistical increase, and it might be the result of a decrease in other categories presented to our office,” said City Prosecutor Doug Haubert. “We are watching this very carefully, in fact, we are looking carefully for any trends that might be happening during the coronavirus crisis.”
For legal advocates, the challenge is that courts aren’t completely open, specifically for restraining order and custody hearings. The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has three domestic violence clinics in the county, including one in the Long Beach courthouse that is usually open to the public three days a week, but they had to close in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. Now, their attorneys have to prepare restraining orders by talking to victims over the phone and are trying to figure out how to get the documents to them, said senior attorney Paula Cohen.
“In these crazy times, domestic violence is hardly going to get better, as people are stuck at home with the stressors of money and work, plus children at home,” she said. “All of the usual stressors that hurt our clients are now exaggerated in these circumstances.”
The stay-home order has victim advocates concerned because domestic violence victims don’t necessarily have a safe home to stay.
“Just in the last couple days or so, we have been getting a lot of calls for domestic violence victims seeking shelter,” said Mary Ellen Mitchell, executive director of the Women’s Shelter of Long Beach.
She said that after the shelter takes in two more families that are set to come, they will be at full capacity. They are still screening new clients and quarantining them for two weeks when they arrive, she said. Each family gets a bedroom and separate bathroom, along with their own heat and air conditioning units, which helps prevent the virus from spreading, she added.
As for the Long Beach shelter, workers will be available to take calls and help victims get resources through their 24-hour hotline, even if the shelter doesn’t have room itself, Mitchell said.
“We’re here for the victims and we need to be here for them,” she said.
Because family court hearings have been postponed, situations involving custody disputes can result in families having to decide which home their kids will stay in.
In some cases, the court closures are a good thing, because it’s given some victims a longer temporary restraining order, which precedes a restraining order. Temporary orders usually last about 21 days, but judges have had to extend the orders to twice or three times longer than usual because of limited court capacity, Legal Aid’s Cohen said.
“We have parents on both sides of the fence,” she said.
For victims who may be in dangerous situations now, Cohen recommends that victims get to know their neighbors and if they get the chance, to tell them to call the police if they hear something that causes concern.
“So many of our clients are afraid to call 911, they tend to minimize and blame themselves and may not think of themselves as a domestic violence victim,” Cohen said.
They also might think their situation is not that bad, especially when emergency services are stressed, but if they are in danger, they should not worry about calling 911, she said.