Recipe for Disaster

Domestic violence reporting is down, but violence doesn’t stop for COVID-19

Domestic violence advocates raised alarms after the world shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus — according to the American Psychological Association, the stress of COVID-19 may increase the risk of domestic violence at home.

But the Lane County District Attorney’s Office has seen a 16 percent decrease in domestic violence cases, also known as intimate partner violence cases, and a 17 percent decrease in restraining orders compared to this time last year. Why?

It’s not good news. While the DA’s Office has seen a decrease, Womenspace, a nonprofit that supports survivors and operates the county’s old domestic violence shelter, has seen an increase in calls to its crisis line.

“I would say that they’ve doubled,” says Brandi Yanez, a Womenspace advocate who has been taking crisis calls at home.

DA Victim’s Services Director Lori Silano says she believes reporting is down because resources are more limited during the pandemic. “Abusers are at home and not working,” she says. “So they are keeping their victims isolated, where they can’t reach out for resources because they’re constantly together.”

Silano and Yanez say that while reporting is down, isolation can be more dangerous for people in abusive situations. “There’s nowhere to go,” Yanez says. “There’s so much fear involved and isolation. Tensions are high in our households without abuse, you know.” 

“When you’re supposed to shelter at home, there’s no reprieve for a survivor,” Yanez says.

Silano also had to send home her staff, including the domestic violence advocate, and volunteers, who help out in the protective order clinic. While the clinic is still running, Silano is now doing much of the work herself, and she spends a large part  of her day brainstorming ways to help clients. 

For example, Womenspace referred a woman who needed to file a protective order to Silano. The woman is isolated at home with two kids, no transportation, friends or family, and no wallet or ID, Silano says.

“I’m now going to try and figure out okay, can we get her to a hotel?” Silano says. “How can I get her transportation out of the apartment to a hotel — and most hotels won’t allow you to check in if you don’t have ID. Trying to find a hotel that will accept her without ID, different challenge. And then how is she going to get from the hotel down to the courthouse?”

Yanez says safety planning has changed because resources like shelters are limited. “We have to think of other creative ways to help house people, especially when they’re in danger,” she says. Sometimes that means finding a hotel or connecting with out-of-town shelters.

While her staff at the DA’s office is limited, Victim’s Services is still open, with modifications to allow for social distancing. In the morning, Silano helps people apply for protective orders through a glass window. A judge holds telephonic hearings after 10 am, Silano says, and the Lane County Sheriff’s Office will serve protective orders in the afternoon.

Silano says she sends out packets of information to survivors as she gets new cases, but she doesn’t have time to call and check up on them. “I answer their questions when they call in,” she says, “but because of my short staffing and not having my domestic violence advocate here, I’m unable to do those first phone calls to follow up, to see how they’re doing because I just don’t have the resources or time.”

Womenspace has launched a new chat function, which allows survivors to reach out without fear of being overheard, Yanez says. It’s been successful so far, she says. “It’s a really safe option for people to get services quietly because you can do it off your phone or the computer,” she says. 

“And all of the data on the — even the search history — it deletes all the pages that you visited. Totally wipes it out,” Yanez says.

Yanez says that people who are concerned that a friend or family member is being abused can also reach out to Womenspace, rather than tell them to leave. 

“It’s more beneficial for folks to have an open mind and an open heart and ears and say, ‘Hey, I understand that you’re going through this. And there’s not anything that I can do or say to make this decision for you, but I’m here to support you. And these are the tools that I learned,’” Yanez says.

Womenspace Crisis Line can be reached 24 hours a day at 541-485-6513 or 800-281-2800. The chat function can be accessed from its website. 

The Lane County District Attorney Victim’s Services Division is open Monday-Friday from 8 am to 12 pm at 125 E 8th Ave, Room 400 in Eugene. To apply for a protective order, arrive by 8:30 am.