SAN DIEGO (CNS) – With stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in place indefinitely, greater levels of stress could cause an increase in domestic violence throughout San Diego County, a Sharp Health psychologist said Wednesday.
“Stress levels in general are elevated and there are not as many opportunities to relieve stress, which could create a lot more opportunities for conflicts to escalate,” Dr. Christina Huang, a clinical health psychologist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital told City News Service.
Factors such as financial strain and the possibility of getting sick, paired with the feeling of having no control over the COVID-19 pandemic, could also amplify tense situations, Huang said.
In the span from March 1 to April 25, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department logged 2,309 domestic-related calls, a roughly 3% increase from the 2,237 such calls handled in the comparable two-month stretch last year, according to sheriff’s Lt. Ricardo Lopez.
Other departments around San Diego reported that not much has changed regarding domestic violence call statistics recently, but the situation is still developing.
“The short answer is that we have not seen a change in the number of cases submitted or filed by our office at this time,” said Steve Walker, a spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. “It’s a complicated issue that we haven’t been able to analyze yet since we don’t have all the data yet.”
Shawn Takeuchi, a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department, said the department has not seen an increase in domestic violence calls since the stay-at-home period began.
Huang said domestic violence victims may be less likely to report instances to authorities or health care providers at this time because of uncertainty regarding when the pandemic will be resolved.
“Usually what we see happening is (the victim) will reach out on some other issue — depression or anxiety,” she said. “Then after a long period of time when they finally feel safe enough with us they will reveal violence that’s happening in their relationship.”
Huang also noted that while the responsibility to not harm lies solely with a perpetrator — never the victim of violence — there are steps someone concerned about violence can take to feel safer during the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.
She advised that all members of the household should try to:
- go to bed and get up around the same times each day;
- make sure to get plenty of exercise — if you can go outside to walk, go outside, and if you live in a dense area and going outside makes the practice of social distancing difficult, there are many free exercise videos online;
- spend time learning a new skill;
- start household projects or engage in spring cleaning;
- connect as frequently as you can with friends and family through phone calls, texts, social media and video chat platforms;
- eat nutritious foods and avoid mood-altering substances, such as alcohol, as much as possible; and
- stay connected to or connect with a therapist by telephone or online.
Officials are also stressing the importance of using technology to keep in contact with loved ones, even from a distance, in order to be aware of signs of abuse.
During a webinar conducted by five California district attorneys, San Diego County DA Summer Stephan said victims are often isolated by their abusers, an issue exacerbated by stay-at-home orders.
“Even if they can’t visit their loved one, they should be able to insist on having a Facetime, where they lay eyes on and they see and they’re able to observe whether there’s been any bruising, anything,” Stephan said.
She said many people take notice of crimes committed by strangers but neglect to account for domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse, which is often committed by people known to the victims.
“This is a time when we are all trying to make our communities realize that what is happening behind closed doors, closed facilities, it is on us to make sure that it is brought out into the light,” she said.
Stephan said despite the closures of so many institutions during the public health crisis, domestic violence shelters remain open to assist those in need.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends that family and friends of potential victims develop a safety plan, which should be updated to reflect new challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including alternative lodging options because hotels and shelters may not be a available.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, there are a variety of ways an abuser’s need to gain control may manifest in isolation. Abusive partners may:
- withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants;
- share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten victims, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms;
- withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance or prevent victims from seeking medical attention if they need it; and
- feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-799-7233. If you are unable to speak safely, you can log on to thehotline.org or text “LOVEIS” to 22522. In San Diego, free local services and resources are available through the San Diego District Attorney’s Office at https://www.preventdv1.org/resources.
Huang said clinicians around the country are offering discounted and pro-bono services for people in need.