COVID-19 orders could mean increased vulnerability to abuse


On March 19 California Gov. Gavin Newsom told 40 million Californians to stay home. While the shelter-in-place order aims to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe, for people who live with an abusive partner it could mean increased vulnerability. .

About 33 percent of women and 27 percent of men in California experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

With non-essential businesses, beaches, parks, boardwalks and trails closing across San Diego County and people being increasingly bound to their homes, Executive Director of Crisis House Mary Case said abusers could use COVID-19 orders as a way to further isolate their victims.

“That is part of the whole process, the power and control and how they maintain power and control,” Case said.

According to the National Voice of Domestic Violence, a national nonprofit organization that serves victims, survivors and families affected by domestic violence, isolation is used by abusers to cut off family and friends and give the abuser more control in the relationship.

Crisis House, located at 1034 N. Magnolia Ave. in El Cajon, is an emergency resource center that puts people in contact with services that address abuse, food insecurity, healthcare, homelessness and domestic violence, and offers four housing programs for domestic violence survivors.

The center is currently open to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and continues to provide domestic violence survivors with relocation assistance and support, according to Case. People can call Crisis House at 619-444-1194 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or leave a voicemail outside of those hours.

Case said Crisis House staff helps callers talk through what kind of abuse has occurred and what their options are for relocating.

“There’s so many factors to consider about where they may want to relocate and how we may be able to help them,” Case said. She added that factors include proximity to the perpetrator, type of abuse, whether or not a caller is employed and where they are employed.

South Bay Community Services, a community-based nonprofit organization, also provides emergency and transitional housing options for families fleeing domestic violence, in addition to supportive services like food assistance and job readiness for survivors.

SBCS Child Well Being Department Director Valerie Brew echoed that orders to self isolate could make things worse for domestic violence victims.

“One of the things perpetrators do is isolate their victim from family and friends, and this could definitely be a more difficult time,” Brew said.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Brew said SBCS had to make some adjustments to the services they provide, including having their Domestic Violence Response Team operate remotely rather than accompany police on domestic violence calls to adhere to social distancing.

Although the team is not currently accompanying police on calls, Brew said if survivors need shelter someone from the response team will meet up with them in person. SBCS also has a hotline that people can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 800-640-2933.

“Sometimes people who are scared to interact with law enforcement, they feel more comfortable calling us,” Brew said.

Program Director Analicia McKee said she encourages people who are living with an abusive partner right now to call the hotline so SBCS can assist with safety planning.

“Some of the things you would want to think about is building a code word with children in the home, some kind of word that signals getting into a room in the house where they can get away from the perpetrator,” McKee said.

She added that the kitchen wouldn’t be a good room to designate, because there are things that can be used as weapons in a kitchen.

McKee also advises that people living with an abusive partner have important documents gathered in one place so they can take the documents with them if it reaches a level where they need to flee.

Other things people can do include discussing with children that are “age appropriate” when to call 911 or who to call in their circle if the abuse escalates. As far as what qualifies as age appropriate, McKee said she would let the parent determine that.

SBCS is currently in need of donations including toilet paper, food and cleaning supplies, according to Brew. Donations can be dropped off on the second floor of the First Bank building at 318 Fourth Ave. in Chula Vista.

“We’re experiencing the same limitations as our residents,” Brew said.