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Domestic Violence Spikes While Families Shelter in Place

By Debra Schoenberg

As cities across the U.S. enforce stay at home orders, domestic violence hotlines are seeing a surge in the number of calls for help. According to news reports, San Francisco’s District Attorney’s office reported a 60% increase of victims referred to its Victim’s Services Division during the first week of the city’s shelter-in-place order. The number of referrals jumped 33% the following week. Mayor London Breed recently announced that San Francisco has secured 20 furnished apartments to serve as temporary housing for domestic violence survivors who need to relocate immediately to ensure their safety.

California defines domestic violence as abuse perpetrated against a spouse, former spouse, roommate or former roommate. The abuse inflicted by one’s current for a former dating partner or fiancé is also domestic violence as well as abuse committed against the parent of a child or by the other parent. California also extends its recognition of domestic violence to abuse committed by extended family members, as long as the abuse and the victim are related in the second degree by blood or marriage.

If you’re afraid an abusive spouse will try to hurt you or your children you must develop a plan for your safety. Keeping yourself and your children safe should be the highest priority. Develop a safety plan if you and your children need to escape your home.

Your risk of harm from an abusive spouse increases when you leave. For this reason, you must regard your safety and that of your children as paramount. While it can be very difficult financially, emotionally, and in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, challenging to physically relocate some tools and resources can help protect you if you embark down the path to divorce.

Make sure to document evidence of domestic violence because it’s a factor the court can consider when deciding child custody. If you don’t contact the police or seek a protective order, there will not be any documented evidence and the court may not consider past incidences of abuse when deciding important issues involving your divorce.

It’s important to find a lawyer who understands domestic violence. You’ll want to ask an attorney about a domestic violence prevention order. This is a court order that may offer some protections, including granting you temporary custody of your children, ordering your spouse to leave the family residence and have no contact with you, and setting child and spousal support as appropriate. This order also affords you protection, in the event your abusive spouse violates the order.

The California Prevention of Domestic Violence statutes are designed to prevent abuse between family members, household members, and dating couples. The statutes protect both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Victims of domestic violence may request that the court issue a protective order to prevent future abuse. A parent may also apply for the order on behalf of a child.

Allegations of domestic violence are very serious and have severe consequences as it relates to criminal and civil liability. If you’ve suffered domestic violence you need to reach out to law enforcement and an attorney. While it may seem difficult to seek help, many resources can help you “break the silence” and seek to end the abuse. The Women Against Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) is an agency that offers support and vital information about domestic violence programs in your community.