Law enforcement officials and victims’ advocacy groups are describing domestic violence as “the other pandemic” during the coronavirus outbreak. The new normal we are experiencing—home confinement, loss of employment, financial stress, and other factors, have exacerbated tensions and anxiety levels for all of us.
Research and historical patterns show that situations like these lead to domestic violence, especially among couples with patterns of abuse in the past.
The effects are quantifiable. In Orange County, domestic violence calls have increased 25% when compared with the same period in March and April last year, Sheriff Don Barnes said at a news conference in April. Family dispute and child custody dispute calls increased to 24% and 30%, respectively.
Across the region, advocacy groups are mounting efforts to protect victims of abuse due to the increased risk posed by the pandemic. Organizations such as Laura’s House in Orange County and Riverside County Coalition for Alternatives to Domestic Violence have remained open during the crisis, conducting counseling and hotline services via telephone and Zoom video conferencing.
Pandemic further isolates those suffering from abuse
Social distancing measures pose additional problems for those suffering from domestic violence, including and especially children. The usual points of contact that detect when a child is being abused—doctors, teachers, childcare professionals, family and friends, are cut off from the victims.
Home isolation, although necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic, gives more power to the abuser. It becomes situation of control, and it is difficult for victims to get help or escape. Under these conditions, victims of domestic violence are often too scared to call the police. For law enforcement officials, if calls stop coming in, it is a recognized sign of trouble.
Agencies have started to act in response. In Los Angeles County, the district attorney has launched the “Behind Closed Doors” program to address a decreased number of calls. The campaign directs delivery personnel, home repair workers, neighbors, family and friends to immediately text or call 911 if they believe someone needs help.
Every situation involves a different set of circumstances. Often, leaving an abusive relationship presents many difficult challenges. Fear is pervasive. The victim may be afraid of what might happen if she or he leaves. She or he may have nowhere else to go. There is a fear of retaliation if she or he is found reaching out to networks of support. What if they don’t believe her or him? She or he might doubt that anyone can truly offer protection.
There are endless factors that keep someone in a abusive relationship. Cultural expectations, financial depression, fear for their children’s safety—the pressure seems insurmountable to the point that someone who is experiencing an emotionally or psychologically abusive relationship might downplay it, rationalize it as normal, or simply be too afraid to leave.
Historically, domestic violence survivors rely on teachers, friends, medical professionals and others in the community to report crimes and offer support to finally break the cycle. Right now, for many individuals experiencing abuse in a co-habitation environment, those critical means of support are cut off. This is why the pandemic and social distancing poses a huge challenge.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
Family law attorneys help individuals escape from domestic violence by utilizing protections written into the law for victims of abuse. When attorneys first consult with clients, there is often a misconception that domestic violence only means physical abuse. Many do not realize that abuse and domestic violence takes many forms. For example, if your abuser threatens to disseminate sensitive information about you, that potentially falls under domestic violence as well.
Other examples of behavior that may be considered domestic violence include:
- Accesses your e-mail, computer or cell phone without your consent.
- Stalks, harasses, or breaks into your space.
- Isolates you from friends and family as a means of control.
- Restricts movements, taking keys, preventing from leaving the house.
- Tracks your location without consent, following you.
- Punches holes in the wall; throws or breaks things in anger, kicks down doors.
- Threatens you or the children with physical or emotional harm.
- Sends harassing/threatening text messages or emails, disseminating private information.
- Leaves threatening voice mail messages or texts.
This is not an all-encompassing list. The courts’ determination of what constitutes domestic violence is ever changing, and in some cases, expanding. Behavior you might not consider domestic violence could very well be within the courts’ or legislatures’ definition.
What Does a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) Do for You?
Depending on the nature of the case, getting a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) can help protect someone who has been abused or threatened with abuse. A DVRO is a court order that:
- Restrains an abuser from contacting you, your children, and your property either personally or through a third party.
- Restrains an abuser from harassing, stalking or otherwise disturbing your peace.
- Orders an abuser to be removed from a home that you share.
- Gives victims temporary child custody pending formal hearing and permanent custody after the formal hearing.
- After a formal hearing, requires the abuser to pay child support and/or spousal support
- Prohibits the abuser from possessing a firearm or ammunition.
- After a formal hearing, orders that the abuser to pay fees related to acts of violence, including medical and attorney fees.
How to Pursue a DVRO
Obtaining a DVRO is a multi-step process. It requires that you complete and file several forms and declarations at a California courthouse in the county where you reside. Initially, a family court judicial officer reviews the filing, and decides whether to issue a temporary DVRO pending a formal hearing on the matter.
The restraining order forms give you a chance to present why there is fear of harm or harassment. You want to be as detailed and specific as you can about instances of abuse, using dates and times if possible. Include photos of injuries, police reports, text messages—anything you can show demonstrating threats to the safety or peace of you and/or your children.
Should the judicial officer decide you are in immediate need of protection, a temporary restraining order is generally issued within one or two business days of filing. The restraining order must then be served on the person being restrained. The person serving the order must be someone other than the victim who is 18 years or older. A marshal or sheriff’s deputy will do it for free, but you must ask them.
The temporary orders create conditions that are enforceable until a DVRO hearing takes place at a later date set by the court. Until that time, the abuser must follow the rules set forth by the temporary order.
Whether or not you get a temporary order, the court will schedule a hearing for a longer lasting DVRO, called a permanent DVRO, which can last up to 5 years. At the hearing, you and your abuser will have a chance to present evidence to a family court judicial officer. You will want witnesses to the domestic violence or harassment there to testify and to present any documentary evidence, such as photographs, e-mails, text messages and the like. You will have a chance to tell the judicial officer what happened and why you are fearful of continued abuse.
When Is a DVRO the Route to Pursue?
When the safety for our clients and our clients’ children is at issue, we pursue DVROs. Safety is absolutely paramount, as is the right to live in peace. A DVRO is a powerful document to protect you and keep you safe.
We tell our clients it is important to have several copies of the restraining order made, file one with local law enforcement, and keep the remainder in a number of places:
- One copy with you at all times
- One copy in your vehicle
- One copy in your home
- One copy on file at a child’s school or care facility
Should the abuser violate the DVRO, contact local law enforcement and your attorney immediately.
How Can a Family Law Attorney Help Get a DVRO?
A family law attorney can help you identify persuasive evidence, prepare it for the court, and present in a way that is consistent with the law. Attorneys know what family law judicial officers look for with respect to making decisions about issuing a DVRO. They know how to cross examine your abuser in a manner that reveals their violation of your right to live in peace.
About the Author
Samantha K. McBride is a Custody Queens attorney focused on helping individuals experiencing domestic violence protect themselves and their children. Her areas of practice include domestic violence restraining orders (DVRO), child custody, divorce, and related family law matters.