The following article was originally published April 17, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by Robert Garrova
Experts were afraid this might happen. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to stay at home, there's been a spike in calls to L.A. County's domestic violence hotline, as well as to some shelters for abused women.
The number of calls to the hotline in March jumped nearly 70% over the same month last year, from 432 to 726. Officials at shelters report more calls as well.
Barbara Kappos, executive director of the East Los Angeles Women's Center, said a higher percentage than usual of the women calling are in search of shelter or alternative housing.
"We had for instance last night a young woman with her child sleeping in her car fleeing from an abusive situation," Kappos said. Her organization was able to secure the woman a hotel room.
Most shelters we spoke with are full. "Just last week, there were 32 clients that we had to turn away," said Iliana Tavera, executive director of the Haven Hills domestic violence shelter in Canoga Park. She said her shelter only had to turn away 10 women in the entire month of February.
"The call volume and the requests for services has increased tremendously since the beginning of this pandemic," Tavera said.
There hasn't been an increase in calls to the Women's Shelter of Long Beach, said Executive Director Mary Ellen Mitchell. But she's concerned many victims are struggling to find the privacy to phone for help in the first place.
Mitchell described the situation of a woman her shelter heard from last week: "She actually was calling from her cell phone ... kind of hiding in the backyard, making sure the abuser didn't know what she was doing."
HELP IS STILL OUT THERE
Mitchell said it's important to get the word out that shelters like hers are still open and able to help victims, even if they don't necessarily have a bed to offer.
And while many court proceedings are on hold right now, essential functions, including filing domestic violence restraining order applications, are still available.
"We've assisted clients with restraining orders where the abuse dynamic was very much COVID specific," said Julianna Lee, supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. "In one case, it's where the abuser is frequently going in and out of the home and making the household more vulnerable to [COVID-19] exposure intentionally."
Earlier this month, Rihana's Clara Lionel Foundation — in cooperation with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — announced a $4.2 million grant to the Mayor's Fund for L.A. "to provide 10 weeks of support for victims of domestic abuse including shelter, meals and counseling for individuals and their children."
Some shelters are having trouble freeing up existing beds due to COVID-19, according to the East Los Angeles Women's Center's Kappos. In the midst of a global pandemic, it's not an ideal time to be looking for permanent housing or handling the stress of a move.
And there are concerns about the lasting effects of the turmoil and stress COVID-19 is creating for people in abusive situations.
"The longer this goes on, the damage in terms of trauma is going to be enormous," said Lee. "The detriment that it causes to children in those households is going to be enormous, not to speak of the physical injuries that could result from a situation like this."
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: