Domestic Abuse, Divorce on the Rise During Shelter-in-Place

Before public health officials enacted stay-home orders to slow the spread of Covid-19, Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, says her advocates were called upon by police about once or twice a month.

Those calls have since increased fourfold.

“We’re definitely seeing the abuse and the violence intensified; the calls that are coming in are becoming more complex,” she says.

Throughout quarantine, the number of cases of domestic violence reported has steadily increased, but with the court process affected by strict safety protocols, cases are stalled.

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Unit Summerle Davis, who heads the agency’s Family Violence Unit, has seen the uptick as well.

And while the courts move forward with prosecuting domestic violence crimes, the proceedings have been impacted by Covid-19 protocols.

“But the district attorney’s office is open, we are still working,” she says.

The greatest impact to the court process has been the inability of the courts to proceed with jury trials, according to Davis. “We’ve had, kind of, this hiatus period during the shelter-in-place where we haven't been bringing jurors in and so we haven’t had any trials,” she says. “Trials that were in process were suspended. So basically right now we’re in a place where we have roughly 200 cases that are set, or that are a backlog of cases, and I would say more than half of those are our family violence cases.”

As criminal domestic violence cases increase, so do divorces.

Elaine Le, a family law attorney since 2015, says that while none of her current cases involve domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, colleagues have encountered cases involving intimate partner violence. Since the quarantine began, Le says she has had more people calling into her office to ask about how to proceed with a divorce. “The amount of new clients we had in June alone was huge,” she says.

Custody arrangements have also been impacted by the virus, she says, as divorced parents contend with co-parents who use the virus as an excuse not to abide by custody agreements, or who may be placing their family at risk by not quarantining effectively. She says that she and her clients have been fortunate. In every situation she has dealt with, parents have been receptive to mediation, and have been able to continue co-parenting despite their differences.

Like Davis, Le is able to move cases forward in court, but certain proceedings have been delayed, and most of Le’s work now takes place through calls or video-conferencing. Both Le and Davis note that though clients are frustrated with the delays, some survivors express relief that they do not have to enter the same courtroom as their abuser.

Perla Flores oversees the Solutions to Violence Division of Community Solutions, which provides direct prevention and outreach resources to survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking.

She says that while attending court by phone or video is helpful to some, lack of appropriate technology can also be a barrier to resolving a case in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, for survivors who rely on a translator or interpreter, newer technology can be insufficient. Like Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, Flores works directly with survivors, and has seen an increase in the number of people contacting Community Solutions through Safe Chat, a helpline that allows victims to discreetly talk with an advocate.

Flores and Peralez-Dieckmann both state that the 72-hours in which a victim of domestic abuse decides to leave are the most dangerous, a time when a victim of domestic abuse is more at risk of becoming a victim of homicide.

“It’s about power and control,” Flores says, regarding the reason abusers exhibit violent behavior or turn to homicide when a victim tries to leave. “The abuser feels they are losing control over a partner when they begin to leave, and that can turn lethal.”

Another risk factor that increases the likelihood intimate partner violence will escalate to homicide is strangulation. “A person who has been strangled is 750 percent more likely to die, especially if there is a firearm in the house,” says Kim Walker, the nurse manager of the Santa Clara County Sexual Assault and Forensic Exam Program, quoting a statistic from the Institute on Strangulation.

Victims of strangulation are often referred to the emergency room for treatment, where Walker can administer a forensic exam. Through a visual assay and forensic examination of the patient’s medical history, and potentially a CT angiography, Walker can find evidence of strangulation.

Walker says that strangulation can be fatal even if there are no visible marks on the patient’s throat, and that it can be fatal even days to years after they occur due to the formation of blood clots or brain damage.

That’s why she strongly encourages patients to show up for follow-up examinations. Since the shelter-in-place order, Walker says she has seen an increase in the frequency and severity of strangulations, and reported that 18 percent of sexual assault cases her unit has seen are presenting with symptoms of being choked.

“There’s a large gap in everybody’s knowledge with this,” she laments.

In addition to addressing the symptoms and effects of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, Peralez-Dieckmann and Next Door Solutions seek to address the root causes of this public health crisis by offering therapy directly to the perpetrators of family violence. “There isn’t a perpetrator out there that doesn’t have some sort of history of being a victim of violence, being exposed to violence,” Peralez-Dieckmann says.

Next Door Solutions began offering a pilot program centered around offering therapy to convicted batterers in January of 2020, but the program was shut down in March when the shelter-in-place order took effect.

Though therapy for people who perpetrate domestic abuse are finding more support, perpetrators often do not seek or find help until they’re arrested—after they’ve already hurt someone. “We’re looking at things in a much more macro way,” Peralez-Dieckmann says. “How do our systems keep victims safe? How do they keep batterers accountable?”

“I would just like to tell them it is not their fault,” Flores says, referring to victims of intimate partner violence. “They are not alone, and I would really encourage them to call a confidential crisis line and explore what options they have.”

6 Comments

  1. Even before the shelter in place, the Santa Clara County Family Court has never enforced the custody agreement. If you report DV at the family court, they will simply ignore it. If the DV perpetrator is an influential person or law enforcement, the situation is even worst. Julia A EMEDE is in the business of protecting law enforcement DV perpetrators. Do not trust the Santa Clara County Family Court. They prolong cases with the sole purpose of making sure everyone involved, not the families, get richer. They give custody to the biggest payers even if those are pedophiles. These pedophiles then rape and kill their own children. I personally know few cases. They typically try to put the blame on the “couple” even when only one is to blame. The Santa Clara County Family Court is a big mess. You could be sane when you start the process and end up at the 5150 unit by the end. The family court in this county destroys families. The family Court attorneys always make money independently of outcomes. It is a big business they all fight hard to keep! Think about this. In the criminal court, if you do not have money to pay for representation, you will be assigned a public defender. In the family court, if you do not have money to pay for representation, you will have to represent yourself. This means those with money have the greatest probably of keeping their children even if they are the DV perpetrators and pedophiles. If you feel the court is not treating you fairly, make your case public. They warn you not to do that, but do it particularly if you or your children are being abused. Use the Go Fund me. People will know about your case. They may financially contribute too. The family court people do their work when the public is paying attention. Do not be silent. DV happens to people from all walks of life, socio economic background, sexual orientation, creed. Domestic Violence is a learned behavior. For this, it can be unlearned, therapy, classes, education…

  2. Excuse me, but I can’t keep up with all the changes in PC English. What is the difference between domestic violence and intimate partner abuse? Thank you.

  3. A note about Perla Flores: During the 2019 Human Trafficking Conference organized by no other than Cindy Chavez, a local mental health professional gave a negative review about the conference. The MH asked several times during the conference how could this problem be avoided if DA Office, Jeff Rosen, typically let sexual abusers go free. The MH professional even shared how few clients had even attempted to kill themselves when after reporting the rapists were not charged. Perla Flores kept blocking the MH professional from making those questions during the conference. At the end. They asked participants to rate the conference. The MH professional said in the review it was a ripoff! The MH professional was part of the leadership in a local agency. The employer paid the work day for a group of about 16 employees to attend the conference including lunch charged by the organizers. People could not freely express their opinions or ask questions supposedly due to lack of time. They were just moved from one room to the other for the whole day. The mental health professional gave the review using personal cell-phone, personal email address, and personal internet, network. PERLA FLORES, was apparently so upset by the ripoff review that she shared the employee’s emails related to the review with the employee’s employer. Two of the leadership people at this agency were friends with Perla and other people at the Community Solutions where Perla works. She escalated the comment situation to the point where people from her agency and the other agency’s people were involved in the emails conversations. Perla shared with all. Remember these were the personal emails of the employee’s from personal cell phone and network. Perla and her other lawyer friend from community solutions were clueless about the privacy and confidentiality situation. Perla Flores, your director friend no longer works for the agency. You yourself Perla Flores need support for your violent tendencies! At the end Cindy Chavez said sorry to the MH professional for what Flores and her Indian lawyer friend did. All this for a ripoff review about the Human Trafficking Conference. A little after this incident, the CEO and the Board of Directors congratulated the employee for all the money the agency was making resulting from this employee’s work. The employee now works for large NY corporation…

  4. The people working at community solutions are people who are always kissing the a$$es of Cindy Chavez, DA Rosen, and local police departments. If DA Jeff Rosen decides to ignore a case for any X reason, these people will ignore that too. For non-privileged perpetrators, it is very likely you will be sent to DV classes for few months to up to a year. You pay based on income from $35 to $70 per class’ weekly class. DO NOT TRUST COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS OR YWCA because they are a fraud. Next Door has a better reputation. Turning Point is best at working with perpetrators based on perpetrators’ reports.

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