The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated an already invisible problem—domestic violence.
When shelter-in-place orders went into effect in early 2020, the situation for San Jose victims of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence trapped them. They were unable to reach out for help, according to YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley CEO Adriana Caldera.
The shelter-in-place orders created unintended consequences.
At first, there was an initial drop in calls because people were in “survival mode” and struggling to get their bearings, said Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence. Dealing with the violence they faced had to come second to food, housing and childcare.
“Clients told us, ‘It’s not safe for me to call you. Normally he goes to work, but now he is monitoring my phone and computer,’” Peralez-Dieckmann told San José Spotlight.
Eventually, as shelter-in-place orders were extended and the pandemic factored into everyone’s lives, these individuals achieved some stability, Peralez-Dieckmann said—and Next Door received a high volume of calls for safety planning.
Safety planning involves outlining plans for a victim’s physical and emotional well-being. Safety plans may include a list of contacts who are safe to confide in, exit plans for work, home and school, instructions for children and self-care. Each safety plan is individualized to meet a client’s needs.
Agencies like the YWCA experienced an increase in the demand for their support services during the pandemic. The periods of March 2019 to February 2020 compared with March 2020 to February 2021 saw a 7% increase in reports of domestic violence and a 100% increase in reports of domestic rape, according to the San Jose Police Department.
“The pandemic as a whole put a bright spotlight on gender-based violence and domestic violence already happening in San Jose homes,” Caldera said.
Last year, the YWCA experienced a 120% increase in requests for their support services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, which included counseling, case management, legal advocacy and safety planning.
While everyone else juggled or struggled their way through the pandemic, these abused survivors had this added burden while dealing with the same financial issues. Clients at YWCA sought help with housing insecurity and unemployment. During the pandemic, the number of individuals YWCA housed in motels rose by a staggering 224%, Caldera said.
Like all agencies in San Jose, YWCA and Next Door moved all operations online, and the transition proved to be challenging for some survivors. Many were living without access to WiFi or had little knowledge of how to use a computer, Peralez-Dieckmann said.
But the shift proved positive in one way. For some survivors, accessible transportation to agencies was difficult, so online services gave clients more opportunities to connect with the support they needed.
Next Door’s usual 16 in-person support groups were whittled down to seven virtual groups, which people seemed to prefer, Peralez-Dieckmann told San José Spotlight.
“They could turn their camera off, not even have to list their name and just participate,” she said.
Today, a year and a half into the pandemic, the increased volume of requests for support services at the YWCA has not let up, Caldera said, and at times the situation still becomes tragic.
On Oct. 27, a San Jose woman was found dead near Jerilyn and Dale drives in unincorporated San Jose. Her estranged husband was charged with her murder. The woman had an active restraining order against her husband at the time of her death.
Restraining orders are just one of the legal services agencies like YWCA help secure for domestic violence survivors.
“I want people to know that help was there throughout COVID, and it continues to be here. We are around 24/7; people just need to pick up the phone and call us,” Caldera said.
Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence 24/7 Crisis Hotline: (408) 279-2962
YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley 24/7 Hotline: (800) 572-2782
Contact Kristen Pizzo at [email protected]