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Domestic violence victims in 'worst-case scenario' during outbreak, providers say

Laura Newberry and Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

LOS ANGELES -- One evening last week, a 38-year-old woman showed up in the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital. She had been beaten up by her boyfriend.

Under normal circumstances, the hospital would contact a domestic violence advocate, who would meet with the woman in person and help her find shelter and other services. But that night, because of limitations on visitors and health guidelines due to COVID-19, an advocate had to connect by phone.

About a dozen calls later, the survivor was placed in a shelter.

"We got lucky this time," said Yvette Lozano, the chief program and operating officer for Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit focused on ending interpersonal relationship violence. "It's really hard to find an immediate placement for someone in need."

Lozano and other advocates worry that the changes to everyday life brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic -- stay-at-home mandates, job losses and school closures -- may worsen already strained relationships, leading to increased rates of domestic abuse. Others are concerned that those who are suffering may be less inclined to report a crime or reach out for help.

"For someone who is in an abusive relationship, this is kind of a worst-case scenario," said Alyson Messenger, a managing staff attorney with the Jenesse Center, a domestic violence organization based in South Los Angeles. "Compound that with the fact that access to services is more difficult than ever."

 

This nightmare for domestic violence victims has already played out elsewhere. The number of such incidents in China has risen sharply as people across much of that country have been quarantined, according to Chinese news sources. Already, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has begun to field some highly distressing calls as quarantine measures have been implemented, said the hotline's chief executive, Katie Ray-Jones.

One woman said her partner threatened to throw her out onto the street if she showed any symptoms of COVID-19. Another said her partner vowed to prevent her from seeking medical care if she gets sick.

Al Provinziano, a family lawyer in Los Angeles, said the number of calls to his firm related to domestic violence has doubled this week.

"People are saying that they can't believe they'll be stuck with their abuser, and that they don't know how they're going to get through this period of quarantine," Provinziano said.

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