Stay Safe

Christine Duncan says calls to the YWCA of Monterey County – from victims of domestic violence or friends and family members calling on others’ behalf – increased three-fold in the 36 hours after the lockdown took effect.

Even the best relationships are under significant stress right now. But take a statewide shelter-in-place order, a pandemic that has seen jobs and income dissolve overnight, mix in children who might normally be at school but instead are staying home, and for some households, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Monterey County is only about a week into a shelter-in-place order, and it’s too early for local police agencies to have tracked a change in calls about domestic violence. But at the YWCA of Monterey County, CEO Christine Duncan says that in a 36-hour period just after the order went into effect, calls to her agency about access to shelters and legal services increased threefold – about 54 such calls came in.

“The calls are pretty much what we normally hear. It’s someone who is exerting a great deal of control or restricting someone’s access to things or relatives or being physically violent to them or the children,” Duncan says. “We’ve also had instances of attacking pets as a means to exert control.”

Staff at the Y are able to continue delivering most of their services. While they’re not able to meet face-to-face, they’re scheduling online calls with clients, receiving information from potential new clients and working with the court system to continue seeking emergency protective orders when warranted. So far, there have been an extra 11 or 12 such orders requested over what they might have in a normal week.

That they’re able to continue their work is the good news. The bad news: their domestic violence shelter, which houses women and children, is at capacity. The Y has doubled the amount of staff members there to help the women and children comply with the shelter-in-place order. The other bad news: money is tight, and the Y could use an extra $80,000 to $100,000 to boost its reach; in addition to the shelter, the Y offers access to housing and financial assistance in the form of first and last month’s rent, access to child care and help paying utility bills.

If you find you’re in a tenuous situation at home right now, Duncan recommends three things.

First, create a safety plan – something the Y does with all its clients – to help minimize risk. For example, if being in the kitchen with a domestic partner is a trigger for violence, ensure you’re not alone in the kitchen with the perpetrator.

Second, stay in touch by text or phone with a support network that might include family or friends. Develop a plan so that if your support person hasn’t heard from you in 24 hours, they’ll reach out and send help.

Third, even if you’ve never called the Y for help, call if you need to. They have a 24/7 crisis line (831-757-1001) where someone will make referrals to services.

At the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, Victim Assistance Program Manager Pamela Patterson says the office is still processing domestic violence protection orders; the lobby of the DA’s office is unlocked during the day and employees are able to maintain social distancing because of a glass wall that separates them from the public. They can accept requests for orders through the window there, or the victim can slip one into an outside box that is checked multiple times a day.

“You combine people who don’t have an income, who are stuck at home and don’t know how they’re going to make ends meet, of course the stress level is going to go up. Tempers are going to flare up much faster than normal,” Patterson says.

“We want people to reach out for help. We don’t want children exposed to violence in the home and we want people to be safe.”

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