Posed photo by Shawn Leon

COVID-19 isolation increases domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

COVID-19 social distancing has increased the demand on local domestic violence services according to some professionals in the field.

Locally a 27-year-old Asian woman was forced into a car at gun point in Fieldbrook, seven miles north of Arcata, on Aug. 4, and returned safe after the suspect, a 43-year-old George Rose, previously known to the victim, turned himself in after fleeing the state to Oregon.

In nearby Mendocino, Khadijah Britton, a member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, was forced into a car at gun point on Feb. 7 2018, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend. Britton is still missing and there is a $50,000 reward for information on her location.

Stephanie Weldon, Humboldt State University social work masters graduate and Yurok Tribe member, was the director of the Yurok Tribe Department of Health and Human Services until August and currently is a consultant for state and federal agencies on tribal social services.

Weldon said the tribe received increased calls related to domestic violence as the shelter in place orders went into place in March, and she has heard anecdotes from clients regarding the challenges that COVID-19 places on an already underserved population of victims.

Brenda Bishop, executive director of Humboldt Domestic Violence Services, and HSU alumna, said “Rape culture is very alive and well on [HSU] campus.” The HDVS runs a 24/7 emergency domestic violence hotline which has had a reduction in the number of calls.

Bishop said she suspects this is related to the difficulty for victims to make personal phone calls for help while living in close quarters with their abusers.

Bishop does not believe the reduced number of calls reflects a reduction in domestic violence incidents, and in fact may indicate victims are in increased danger.

Bishop said domestic violence includes intimate partner sexual violence and sex trafficking which may start as intimate partner violence.

“We see a lot of HSU women that get involved in trafficking as well,” Bishop said. Usually this occurs through intimate partner violence with non-students, but sometimes with other students as well.

Lundy Bancroft, author of an Amazon bestseller, “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men,” said in an abuser’s mind everything is about winning and losing and the woman is not seen as having equal rights, her purpose is to satisfy his needs.

Abusive partners can be even more violent when victims try and leave, or immediately after they leave.

“The attitude abusers exhibit in this type of violence when women attempt to leave their partners is, ‘she must have to pay for my unhappiness,’” Bancroft said.

About double the number of women were killed by current or ex-male partners than US soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2012, 11,766 and 6,488 respectively, according to a report by the Huffington Post.

Police historically do not treat domestic violence as a crime but as a private matter meaning many incidents are not reported. Victims have expressed that they feel their reports are not taken seriously by police.

Entrenched sexist bias is compounded by race. Weldon said, “You can’t talk about trauma without talking about race. How can you talk about a mission to wipe [Native American] people out, without talking about the impact that has had on those communities?”

The structure of tribal police, which rely onUS police to cross-deputize the force and certify criminal charge procedures, aren’t able to collect tax revenue that could improve investigative work.

“You go from no response and no intervention to overreaction where a ton of [non-tribal] law enforcement shows up because it’s a known family name,” Weldon said.

According to the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, Black women are two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than their White counterparts.

Meanwhile, according to the study “Race and the Likelihood of Intimate Partner Violence Arrest and Dual Arrest,” non-white female victims of intimate partner violence are less likely to have their perpetrators arrested by police.

Guns in the home increase the deadliness of domestic violence incidents. According to Giffords Law Center, “Guns kept in the home are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal unintentional shooting, criminal assault or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense. Rather than conferring protection, guns in the home are associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”

Bishop encouraged victims to call the 24/7 hour HDVS hotline for resources and emergency help.

Bishop believes the most important thing for people in domestic violence situations is to feel supported and hear affirmation.

“We believe you,” Bishop said. “And the longer you’ve been in abusive relationships the harder it is to make that call.”

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