By Caleb Lunetta
Signal Staff Writer
Sadly, the recent tragic domestic violence-related murder of Michelle Dorsey, a Saugus mother of three, whose estranged husband has confessed to the crime, have reminded everyone of the deadly consequences of a worst-case scenario when it comes to domestic violence.
These tragedies often prompt many to consider the question: How can we make it so this type of tragedy never happens again? Advocates note one of the biggest challenges in addressing the problem, though, is the attitudes and reticence that often persist within ourselves — which make conversations about the topic and finding the answer to that question much more difficult to find.
“There’s a lot of stigmas that go in with domestic violence,” said Krysta Warfield, an advocate at the Santa Clarita Valley Child and Family Center. “You know: ‘It doesn’t happen here’; it only happens to a certain kind of people’; ‘if you don’t feel safe, file a restraining order’; or ‘if you’re being abused, just leave.’
The situations are often much, much more complex than that, she added.
“For instance, it might feel safer for them to be in that relationship than they feel that it is to leave,” she said. “When a victim is telling you that they’re in more danger leaving, you might want to believe them.”
The reality of domestic violence is, according to data and local experts, happens everywhere, regardless of a couple’s ethnic, racial or religious background, sexual orientation or zip code.
“Domestic violence can happen to all, it is not prejudiced,” said Warfield. “It does not matter what socioeconomic status you are.”
Santa Clarita Valley DV stats
Nationwide, on a typical day before the pandemic began, 20 people per minute were physically abused by their intimate partner, 10 million a year — with only 34% able to receive medical care for their injuries, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
But at the beginning of the pandemic, the Santa Clarita Valley, much like the rest of the country, went into quarantine in order to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19. And while this resulted in a number of categories of crime seeing lower levels of occurrence, domestic violence continued to show higher rates than in previous years.
For instance, between July 1-20 of last year there were 51 reported incidents of assault related to domestic violence, including aggravated assault assault, domestic violence; non-aggravated assault, domestic violence; and offense against the family, domestic violence. Over the same period in 2019, there were 32 such reports, indicating a 59% increase.
Countywide, from Jan. 1 to April 30 of 2019, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had 863 reports related to domestic violence. Over the same period in 2020, the number was 933, an increase of about 8%.
What this means
In light of not only the increased proximity to one another as a result of lockdowns and home isolation, but also that the courts system and county legal bureaucracy was brought to a near standstill in the initial months of the pandemic, filing for court orders or restraining orders has become increasingly difficult.
“What’s happening right now is that there is a delay in the court process,” said Warfield. “There’s an opportunity for electronic filing and tax filing, but what’s happening is there’s a backlog. Ultimately, before you could just walk into the court if you felt you were in danger and be able to file for a restraining order that same day … and that’s not typically happening now.”
And while the number of domestic violence incidents reported to law enforcement showed an overall increase last year, as abusers and victims were locked away with one another, Warfield added that a truer understanding of the domestic violence issue in both the SCV, as well as the country, is revealed when the previously mentioned numbers are combined with the domestic violence hotline numbers.
“Law enforcement calls raised over 50%, but hotline calls dropped drastically,” said Warfield. “So that showed that the domestic violence was happening in the homes, but the access to resources was not available.”
Warfield said that calls to the hotline can oftentimes come from a neighbor, a friend or family member who is visiting the home or doing a welfare check. But with no visitors allowed, and the person being trapped inside the same space as their attacker and never leaving the home, safely calling an anonymous hotline becomes a near unthinkable feat.
What is available for victims?
Warfield emphasized, however, that despite the process having become more laden with obstacles, services here in the Santa Clarita Valley remain ready to assist those in need.
“For the person who doesn’t know if they’re in a domestic violence relationship: If they have if they have to be afraid to disagree, they’re most likely in a domestic violence relationship,” said Warfield. “However, instead of letting an article determine that, or a TV determine that or an outside source, there’s nothing wrong with gaining the education and resources to help determine whether or not for themselves that they’re in a domestic violence relationship.”
Standing by to assist are experts that can be reached at the local or national 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotlines, who can provide information about safety, shelter and support. The SCV Child & Family Center also provides 30-day crisis shelters for individuals and their children fleeing domestic violence, crisis intervention, and individual/group counseling and education.
“Reach out for help,” she added. “There are resources available.”
For more information about the programs and services offered by the SCV Child and Family Center, visit their website at https://www.childfamilycenter.org/. Those wishing to learn more about local support but wish to do so anonymously, call the local hotline at 661-259-4357 (HELP). There are additional resources listed at BeTheDifferenceSCV.org.