COVID-19 has upended many of our lives, causing significant disruptions to business as usual across the country. As government officials shut down the economy in order to promote social distancing, the business of the courts has also been limited. While this may be a good policy in light of the current crisis, it is also limiting access to the courts for domestic violence survivors who are desperately in need of help.
As “shelter in place” and “stay at home” orders are instituted in communities throughout the United States, it is having the effect of trapping domestic violence survivors at home with their abusers. This fact, coupled with difficulty accessing courts to obtain a restraining order against an abuser, is creating the potential for a secondary domestic violence crisis throughout the United States. Fortunately, there are still steps that survivors can take to protect themselves from domestic violence during this uncertain time. For more information or to discuss your case with an attorney, call our office today.
The Courts are Still Functioning
As a domestic violence survivor, you may have heard that the courts are closed and postponing all but the most critical cases. While it is true that courthouses are closed to the public, many are still functioning and providing alternative ways for survivors to obtain temporary restraining orders. For example, according to a press release issued by the Orange County Superior Court, the court will be available to issue civil temporary restraining orders, which are the type that one would pursue in a situation involving domestic violence.
The Orange County courts are accepting restraining order requests by email or paper filing. If you choose to submit a paper filing, you can leave it in a drop box at the Central Justice Center. Obtaining a restraining order can be a complicated process, so if you are considering trying to get one against your abuser, you should contact an attorney as soon as you can.
Remember that Domestic Abuse is Not Always Physical
As a person living in fear of domestic violence, it’s important to keep in mind that abuse is not always physical. There are other forms of domestic violence that can be just as insidious and harmful, albeit in different ways. It’s important to be on the lookout for other forms of abuse so that you can take action if it becomes necessary. Some of the most common forms of non-physical domestic violence are discussed below.
Emotional abuse involves conduct that threatens or intimidates the survivor. It can also be behavior that systematically undermines his or her self-worth. Specific examples of emotional abuse include gaslighting, relentless criticizing, isolating, or humiliating another person.
Financial or economic abuse occurs when the abuser controls the survivors’ access to money in such a way as to exert control over them. In a situation involving sheltering in place, this can mean preventing another person from the ability to obtain resources like food, medicine, or personal hygiene products. People who are under a stay at home order may be particularly at risk for financial abuse as a result of not being able to go out and earn their own money.
Sexual abuse involves forcing or coercing another person into engaging in unwanted sexual acts. Some abusers may use the shelter in place order as an opportunity to engage in sexual violence, thinking that their victim has nowhere to go to and no one to report it to.
There are Resources Available
As society shuts down around us, it’s easy to get the impression that there is no one out there to help. Remember that the police department is still functioning, so you can always call 911 if you believe you are in danger of imminent harm. In addition, it’s vital to keep in touch with neighbors and family during this time, and modern technology has made it possible for us to communicate via text, voice, or video in real-time.
Lawmakers are aware of the problem of domestic violence during a pandemic and are actively seeking federal funding for programs aimed at combating it. Senator Kamala Harris recently signed onto a letter requesting that the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) “ensure that the organizations that help survivors and survivors of domestic violence have the flexibility, resources, and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic.”
It’s important to note that there are ways to get help without having to put yourself at risk of exposure to COVID-19. According to a story published by KQED in San Francisco, several organizations that deal with domestic abuse have suspended in-person services and started offering remote support. For example, the station reports that WOMAN, Inc. is offering:
- A 24/7 support line
- Remote counseling sessions via Google Hangouts, Zoom, or by phone in both English and Spanish
- An online domestic violence support group
Also, it’s vital to keep in mind that traditional domestic violence shelters are open, and going to one would certainly be considering an “essential trip” within the meaning of the shelter in place order. Furthermore, according to Krista Niemczyk, public policy manager with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, various programs are looking into how to use hotels and motels to provide shelter to survivors.
For More Information, Contact a Family Law Attorney Near You
If you are concerned about or actively experiencing domestic violence at home during this unprecedented time, you should reach out to an attorney for help. A lawyer will be able to help you obtain a restraining order, if appropriate, and also connect you with various resources that can help survivors stay safe during the pandemic. In addition, should you decide that you are interested in ending your marriage to your abuser once the courts are fully functional, an attorney can you determine your rights and get the process started.