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    By Nicholas Morgan                                         Follow East Palo Alto Today on
    East Palo Alto Today                                Facebook        Twitter         Blog              
    January 15, 2021                                    EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon




    Graphic courtesy of https://www.needpix.com/



    The COVID-19 pandemic forced Americans to shelter in place to avoid increasing their risk of being infected or infecting others. One unintended consequence of these efforts to shield people from the virus is that it forces victims of domestic violence to be together with their abusers.

    According to the National Center Against Domestic Violence statistics, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men were subjected to physical violence at the hands of a loved one. The NCADV estimates this amounts to nearly 20 people being abused a minute in the United States. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that rates of domestic violence being reported decreased, but that did not mean the amount of violence followed downward.

    In a panel discussion hosted by Ethnic Media Services, several attorneys and experts on domestic violence spoke to some of these challenges.

    Dr. Ravi Chandra, a psychiatrist based in San Francisco, said that domestic violence was influenced by a wider array of cultural factors that encouraged it.

    “We are all affected by a culture that deems money and power, especially masculine power, as more important than relationship and compassion,” said Dr. Chandra.

    He said that the lockdown orders have exasperated the factors contributing to domestic violence alongside other external forces. These include this year’s particularly polarized presidential election and the protests against police violence in minority communities over the summer that increased tensions.

    Because of social distance requirements and shelter in place orders, victims of domestic violence are struggling to gain access to the support they need for support or protection. However, HaNhi L. Tran, an attorney with the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office, said that this does not mean the pandemic has rendered law enforcement incapable of rendering aid.

    Tranh mentioned that courts have been forced to cut down on the services they can provide but law enforcement resources remain available.

    “I want to remind everyone that the first step for the criminal process to be triggered is when the police are called,” said Tranh, reminding listeners that law enforcement is considered an essential service during lockdown.

    Johanna Thai Van Dat, an attorney at the Self-Help Center in Santa Clara County, added that civil options were also available to domestic violence victims as well even as some courts have been forced to limit their operations. To that end, remote services remained available for criminal as well as civil cases.

    One attendee however pointed out that even remote access can be difficult for some victims who have no actual space in their home away from their abusers. This may account for why the rate of domestic violence calls have dropped during the pandemic.

    Tranh acknowledged this difficulty, but insisted that in those cases in person visits to local offices are still allowed.

    Attendees emphasized that the problem of domestic violence differed in some ways for minority communities. One attendee gave the example of undocumented immigrants who are being abused at home but are reluctant to report their abuse for fear of being questioned about their documentation status.

    One survey shared by a number of advocacy groups against domestic violence showed that 78% of immigrant survivors feared contacting the police and 75% are concerned about attending court for matters related to either abuse or their abuser. 

    Both attorneys emphasized that these questions are not asked in criminal or in civil cases. If their status did become known in either a civil or criminal case, Tranh said this information is not disclosed as part of any subsequent proceedings. 

    Regardless of the pandemic, the old challenges faced by victims of domestic violence in seeking help from the courts remain.

    “When shelter in place first began, we did have a lot of barriers to accessing the court in the beginning,” said Vaughn Jade Cord, a senior attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid in San Francisco. She identified victims whose primary language was not English and said that they faced particular difficulty in accessing services.

    Another problem she identified was a feeling among her clients, several who are immigrants or undocumented, do not feel adequately supported by the courts or police in their cases. To that end, she believes it is necessary for victim advocates and law enforcement alike to receive more implicit bias or cultural sensitivity training to more effectively assist victims.

    Tranh identified another problem among her clients, several of whom are immigrants or undocumented. She said that they do not feel adequately supported by the courts or by the police.


    Nicholas Morgan contributes articles and reports of special interest to East Palo Alto Today.