Close to Home: Domestic violence doesn’t take a break during pandemics or disasters

The Family Justice Center of Sonoma County offers services for domestic violence victims.
The Family Justice Center of Sonoma County offers services for domestic violence victims.

A shelter-in-place public health order isn’t always a safe option for those at risk of intimate partner violence.

Social isolation is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control over victims. Isolation is all but guaranteed during the COVID pandemic. Studies have also shown an increase in intimate partner violence in the aftermath of natural disasters. Victims in Sonoma County are now more vulnerable than ever, with tempers fueled by the stress of COVID, wildfires, displacement, financial instability and increased alcohol and drug abuse.

Domestic violence affects everyone regardless of age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or culture. It includes verbal abuse, psychological abuse, harassment and physical abuse. It doesn’t necessarily require a black eye or a bloody lip.

Anyone is susceptible to becoming an abuser or victim of intimate partner violence. The abuser may have an undiagnosed mental health disorder or is noncompliant with medication. The abuser may have recently become addicted to prescription drugs or is drinking more than usual. The abuser may be elderly and have no prior history of violence, but is now suffering from dementia or a cognitive decline that has created violent tendencies.

Carla Rodriguez
Carla Rodriguez

The victim isn’t always just the spouse or domestic partner. The victim may be a child who witnessed the violence or otherwise suffered verbal or physical abuse.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office receives multiple reports of domestic violence on a daily basis from local law enforcement. Referrals have increased dramatically since March when the shelter-in-place orders went into effect, and we expect this to continue in light of the continuing pandemic and fire season.

The reports indicate a wide range of domestic crimes including simple batteries, assaults with injury, stalking and murder-suicides. Domestic violence can happen anywhere, including in our beloved county.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The COVID pandemic and its aftereffects make this year’s event more important than ever as we recognize the struggle of domestic violence victims and the success of survivors.

We encourage friends, family and neighbors to reach out to those who may be in need of assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask if someone appears to be unsafe. Any time you go to the doctor now you are asked if you feel safe at home. We owe the same level of scrutiny and support to our family, friends and neighbors. You may be that person’s only lifeline to help.

Programs are open and available for support. The Family Justice Center is providing wraparound services to victims in a virtual setting, with partners finding new ways to reach those who are unable to walk in the door to seek assistance. The center can help with reporting, safe housing, restraining orders, counseling and services for children.

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, please contact the Family Justice Center at (707) 565-8255.

Carla Rodriguez is a chief deputy district attorney and supervisor of the domestic violence unit for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

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