Domestic violence (intimate partner violence) surges in times of natural disasters and crises, COVID-19 included. This year’s pandemic has created isolation, stress, economic anxiety, along with increased alcohol and gun sales; all of which are considered key predictors of domestic violence.
One of the most striking findings to come out of research on intimate partner violence in the wake of crises is that, in addition to the rate of abuse increasing, the severity of abuse can increase as well.
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 women in the United States have experienced domestic abuse. The risks to victims are a major public health problem in that it affects millions of people and often results in physical and emotional injuries and even deaths. There is no excuse for abuse. Here are five things you need to know about domestic abuse:
1. What does domestic abuse look like?
Domestic abuse comes in many different forms. In intimate partnerships, it often starts with controlling and demeaning behaviors by the abuser. It can include isolation from family and friends in many cases. Over time, this type of behavior may escalate into physical abuse. It may begin with shoving and slapping, but often evolves into more serious physical assaults that can include punching, kicking and strangulation.
Domestic abuse increases in frequency and severity over time. It doesn’t “get better” beyond the initial, very temporary, honeymoon period following an abusive incident. Generally speaking, most domestic abusers are in full control of their actions and are thus following patterns of behavior. This is important to understand because it indicates that abuse isn’t often an isolated, one-time occurrence.
2. Who does this happen to and why?
Domestic violence can happen in any relationship, regardless of ethnic group, income level, religion, education or sexual orientation. Abuse may occur between married or unmarried people living together or in a dating relationship. It happens in heterosexual, gay and lesbian relationships. It happens to men and women.
Often times, victims get caught up in wanting to know WHY abusive behavior happens. But the answer to this question can be quite complicated and deserves professional intervention to truly comprehend. The fact remains that there is no excuse for abuse and nobody should have to be victim to abusive behavior. It is harmful for victims to focus their energy on looking for convenient excuses. Refocusing on safety, health and stability of the household must be the absolute priority.
3. If someone is in a domestic abuse situation, who can they reach for help?
If you are in a dangerous situation and need immediate assistance, please call 911. Law enforcement response can help in an emergency situation, and can put victims in touch with people and organizations that offer proper support. Ideally, a victim of domestic abuse would reach out for support before an emergency situation arises where s/he is in danger.
The San Diego County Domestic Violence 24-hour hotline 1-888-385-4657 can assist, and may be able to provide for ongoing needs to get victims the help that they need to change their situation. Additionally, the San Diego Sheriff Domestic Violence Resource website (sdsheriff.net/dv) provides related education, safety tips and other resources. You may also contact the San Diego Sheriff’s Department at 858-565-5200 to report a domestic abuse incident.
It is important to understand that a call to law enforcement is not an absolute solution, but rather a first step in a process toward positive change.
4. What will happen when I call law enforcement?
When you call law enforcement for on-scene intervention, officers will respond to your location. In California, there is a mandatory arrest policy where police believe domestic violence has taken place. If an officer has probable cause to think someone has abused a spouse, partner or family member, then the officer must make an arrest.
It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, the officer will make an arrest of the aggressor. Even in cases where the alleged victim says they no longer wish to press charges, the authorities must still make an arrest. In cases of mutual abuse, both parties may be arrested and/or charged.
If you have called law enforcement to report a past incident or an event that does not require immediate on-scene assistance, you may be asked to provide the information needed to file a report, and law enforcement will proceed as appropriate. You will be offered additional resources.
5. What will happen if I don’t do anything and let it continue?
There are many consequences to allowing domestic abuse to continue. Overall, the victim’s quality of life severely declines. This extends to the rest of the household, including children, extended family members, and even pets. The effects are far reaching, and can often lead to complications at work, with neighbors, family and friends.
Victims of domestic abuse often feel isolated and lonely as a result. Domestic abuse incidents in relationships without intervention only increase in frequency and severity over time. This is especially devastating to children, who are learning by the adult examples in the household. Doing nothing only perpetuates the cycle of violence. The constant and prolonged exposure can lead to chronic illness, mental and emotional traumas, and physical injuries, which can be fatal.
If you have questions about preventing domestic violence, call San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Ramona Substation Crime Prevention Specialist Martha Gonzalez at 760-738-2425.