When the Bay Area went into lockdown due to the pandemic, advocates raised concerns that the prolonged time at home could turn fatal for victims of domestic abuse.
While nonprofit advocates that work with survivors say that prediction has become a reality, local law enforcement contends otherwise. Six months after Santa Clara County issued public health orders requiring people to shelter in place, the San Jose Police Department says it’s actually seen a decline in reports of family violence-related.
In a recently released report—set to be heard today by the San Jose City Council—SJPD found that domestic violence calls fell by 2 percent in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same time frame a year prior.
However, SJPD’s findings take into account data that extends from before the shelter-in-place started until after the county launched its reopening plans months later.
By narrowing the analysis from the date of the March 17 shelter-in-place order through the end of May, San Jose Inside found a 7 percent increase in domestic violence calls.
That tracks with what Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director at Next Door Solutions for Domestic Violence, has been hearing. She told San Jose Inside that calls from the nonprofit’s clients indicate that violence is actually escalating.
“In households where there is already abuse and violence, [stress from the pandemic] can exacerbate the violence,” she said.
It seems, however, that victims are just less likely to call the police.
At the beginning of shelter-in-place, Peralez-Dickmann said many victims were unable to reach police or service providers for help because their abuser was constantly present.
Of course, recent bad press about law enforcement abuses may have also contributed to the slight decline in police reports. Peralez-Dieckmann said an uptick in 911 calls is typically a good thin, a sign that the community trusts the police.
That doesn’t seem to be the case in San Jose, however.
Peralez-Dieckmann said Next Door clients have told her that when they do call police to report that an abuser violated a restraining order, officers rarely take a report.
“There should be a response when a survivor needs help and that’s not consistently happening,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the crime’s not happening, it means that the people aren’t reaching out to the police.”
San Jose Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas, who has positioned herself as an advocate for women and families during her time as District 8 rep, said the city needs to work more closely with service providers and better train officers in trauma-informed interventions.
“A police officer isn’t going to subtly come into your home,” she said. “A service provider knows how to be private and inconspicuous so that abuser is not aware of that possible relationship with the provider. This is what people have been saying is shift the resources and these calls that are more social service-oriented [to] a service provider that is specialized in domestic violence and sexual assault.”
In Arenas’ view, the city also needs to look at the issue through an intersectional lens, understanding the complexity of a victim’s family dynamics that might make them less likely to pursue resolution through the criminal justice system.
“We have to make sure that we do our part to support our community ... to be more diligent about distributing or provide them a respite or child care in general for our families, so that they can feel some relief,” Arenas said. “This is all very much interrelated—and we get that our families are in pain, our families are suffering.”