Sheltering In Place Has Become a Nightmare For Abuse Victims


Sean Hurt

Police agencies across the U.S. have reported a 10 to 30 percent increase in domestic violence related calls. (Photo courtesy of ____)

Cheasanee Hetherington, Staff member

Domestic violence reports in Contra Costa County rose sharply following shelter-in-place orders that began March 16, and many more cases of abuse have likely gone unreported as victims remain forced into close quarters with their abusers.

“The first four days was an eerie, deathly silence,” said Rhonda James, CEO of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, Contra Costa’s largest domestic violence agency. James said that by March 21, the number of calls to the agency began to climb, and there has been an increase in abuse and attempted homicides since then.

Police agencies across the U.S. have reported a 10 to 30 percent increase in domestic violence related calls.

Domestic violence incidents are expected to continue rising as unemployment rates soared last week over 33 million. Increased economic stress has been correlated to higher rates of domestic violence, according to a University of Kentucky research report.

According to James, lack of privacy and socio-economic stability are two factors that have left victims feeling trapped during the pandemic, and overwhelmed by the prospect of starting over if they leave their abusers – particularly at a time when finding new housing and work poses extreme challenges.

“Even if we shelter them for 12 weeks, what do they do then?” she said. STAND! typically houses individuals for eight to 12 weeks, providing a safe place for domestic violence victims to regain control of their lives. 

In some cases, she said, abusers are using the COVID-19 crisis as further cause to isolate their victims, threatening to lock them outside if they leave home.

Minority groups are at particular risk for abuse. Due to concerns about poverty, their children’s well-being and their immigration status, many victims are hesitant to call the police during violent altercations, according to the agency. 

Often, someone who isn’t “comfortable with calling the police may not feel like they have an avenue to reach us,” added James.

Phone calls are only one way people can reach out to STAND!, which is integrated into many Contra Costa community services, including police departments and emergency rooms. However, due to the pandemic, these outlets have become less accessible.

In response, STAND! is now offering texting services to make it easier for people to reach out. “You can make a call, and then we can shift over to texting,” said James.

Despite the increased difficulties domestic violence victims are now facing, James added that her agency always keeps the door open and is ready to help – whether a victim is ready to leave their abuser or not. 

“There is help, and they’re absolutely not alone,” she said. “We’ll do what we can. Our goal is to increase your safety.”

STAND! crisis and emergency respond services, emergency shelter and residential services can be reached at 888-215-5555 or [email protected]

In addition to STAND!, Shelter Inc. and Bay Area Turning Point also offer crisis intervention, emergency shelter and counseling in the Bay Area.