County Prepared for Pandemic Effect on Social Epidemic

July 1, 2020

Every other week I have a Round Table Talk as part of my commitment toward better understanding of issues in our community.

A Round Table Talk on April 20th included special guests YWCA SV’s CEO Tanis Crosby, Community Solutions’ Solutions to Violence Division Director Perla Flores, and San Jose Police Department Family Violence Unit’s Lieutenant Robert Lang. With several articles published on the impact of Shelter-In-Place Orders and Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence, those attending were interested in resources, myths, and how the county was preparing.

Crosby echoed those articles’ take away message, that the public health issue of intimate partner violence and domestic violence will be compounded by Covid-19. All three were eager to get the word out that hope, in the form of survivor based resources, is ready and waiting. 

Quiet Before the Storm…

All three special guests commented on numbers being down, about 18%-30% in crisis calls and 60% decrease in seeking support services. The general concern was that with everyone sheltering in place, those that needed to break free from their home situation have the wrong perception that resources are closed too. What was troubling is that the number of pediatric sexual assaults did not decline as sharply, almost level to pre Pandemic time.  As is the nature of Domestic Violence, numbers never touch reality.  Already, Flores noted, the intensity of abuse had steadily increased over the last few weeks.  Just the prior week, her team had been called on for strangulation exams, an in person assessment that has her team creating new exam methods to keep staff safe. 

Lt. Lang followed this Round Table discussion with a report on data comparing numbers for the 28 days, from March 15 to April 11, in 2019 to 2020.  The numbers from 13 separate sexual assault codes were used for this comparison and there was over 40% drop this year.  For 5 child abuse codes, there was a drop of just over 14%.  Lt. Lang emphasised most of these crimes are under reported, but it was the best “apples to apples” his department could do, and aligned with the experiences his officers had observed this year. 

As I write this at the end of May, the rise in numbers is confirmed. Flores wrote, “We have seen a slight increase in the number of crisis calls as well as walk-ins to our Morgan Hill and Hollister offices. What is significant is that we saw a 300% increase in the number of survivors utilizing SAFECHAT Silicon Valley in one month.”

The San Jose Police Department Family and Violence Unit

Access to survivor centered resources is not limited to those having filed a police report.  But a 911 call can be made by anyone anonymously, and guests were urged to unplug when walking their neighborhoods and tune into their surroundings for everyone’s safety.  If concerning sounds are coming from a residence, calling 911 gets a welfare check visit, and your name is not part of their report. 

Lt. Lang noted that if officers are concerned during the visit, they will talk to the parties at the home.  If there is indication of a crime, the suspect will be incarcerated and the survivor will be connected to resources. Then the police department builds the case for the District Attorney.

There are tools the officers  use to do a thorough investigation and help them target resources for the survivor. His team is constantly updating their set list of questions for the survivor, which include a lethality assessment. The lethality assessment form is a consistent set of questions used county wide, that assure in each domestic violence call, there is an opportunity to reveal if involvement of a  high risk response team should be made. For instance if strangulation was used, that becomes a high lethality risk case.  Officers do not leave until a safety plan is made, often connecting the survivor to resources like YWCA for the survivor, or Community Solutions for evaluation of strangulation or other high risk of lethality abuse.  Flores added that strangulation assessments are in person, but her team is getting creative as they figure out how to keep people safe.  

Further, officers remove firearms if seen or noted as a preventative measure. The team can start an emergency protective restraining order (EPRO) to support the survivor as well. The survivor would be given alternative residency options in that event. The critical part is the officer will give a report receipt with their badge number, case number and a card with contact and resource information.

His unit becomes involved in the follow up. Video to track down from witnesses to strengthen the case, witnesses to interview, or review the file if it is an open and shut case.  When the file is complete, they take it to the District Attorney’s office where which charges to file are determined.  Finally, if the survivor allows them to share the report with the in-office advocate, the advocate will follow up with the survivor to assure they are connected to resources and the support they need.

In numbers, there are about 10,000 cases of abuse a year, but those include duplicate and triplicate cases. The real count as a result is lower, but never as low as desired.  Less than 20% are child and elder abuse. 40% are domestic violence cases that come to Lt. Lang’s team.  Of those 30% get criminal filings. 

A guest asked how it is handled when children are present.  Officers are trained on working with children including interview techniques and a victim centered approach.  Community Solutions and YWCA also works with the children.  Crosby expressed there are comprehensive services including clinical services of counseling and support for children including art therapy.  Flores added when a survivor brings with them their children, part of their service is to help them file  “good cause” papers so the survivor is not accused of child abduction and allowed to remain in their protection.

One of the guests asked if “ordering a pizza” when dialing 911 would cue the operator that the call was about domestic violence.  Lt. Lang indicated that this urban legend is something dispatchers are sharp and aware of.  They are well trained to listen for this and similar requests and respond with the right questions to get someone helped.  In the last 6 weeks law enforcement has been reaching out to make sure all teams are trauma informed and resources are accessible.  Not all survivors want police involvement.

Community Solutions

Community Solutions “provide a comprehensive spectrum of prevention, intervention, treatment, and residential services to the communities of Santa Clara and San Benito Counties. Including services and support to help children, families, and individuals overcome the challenges posed by mental health issues, substance abuse, trauma, severe family dysfunction, sexual and domestic violence, and human trafficking.”  Their support includes a 24 hour in person response team and a confidential shelter.

Though most survivors are women, 10% of the survivors are men.  Flores suspects it would be more if not for social stigma. Crosby agreed as YWCA  reflect about 10 % of survivors are male as well,  but added 8% who stay at the shelter are non-binary/non-conforming.  Half the survivors they serve are Latinx, and they have advocates familiar with several dialects to work with this population. Violence can occur in any relationship.  They work in conjunction with county services and other domestic violence resources including YWCA, Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) and SafeChat Silicon Valley.

Police use a script of questions to tease out if there is sexual abuse or human trafficing. Community Solutions advocates are trained to use the danger assessment developed by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell. Flores noted that often survivors are more comfortable revealing the truths of their experience to advocates and those conversations are privileged.  They noticed that advocates following up with sexual assult survivors identified 40% more were victims of domestic violence compared to 13% with police officers. 

She also has a team that police call on for strangulation assessments in domestic violence cases.  The strangulation exam pilot is a year young, where a free exam for a survivor of strangulation within 10 days of incident is performed through Valley Medical Center.  Strangulation is not always visible, and can lead to long term health issues and changes in behavior.  Documentation from her team aids in the persecution of strangulation cases and assures the survivor is properly treated. 

There have been concerns about the confidential shelter during this time.  They did have to put a hold due to covid on further intake to the shelter, but have worked with the county to have hotel rooms accessible as an alternative solution. But these solutions are not free, and there has been a spike in demand on funding not only for sheltering, but need for survivors that had counted on friends and family that are no longer getting work hours due to Covid-19.

YWCA Silicon Valley – Therapy,crisis support, housing & advocacy services

April and May are months that YWCA does their education outreach to public schools.  Crosby introduced Naomi Nakano-Matsumoto who coordinates this outreach.  With school closures, her team needed to recalibrate and respond by sending curriculum to K-12 teachers to share with students.  This year they are also working with San Jose State University to provide education and information.  They also highlight where to notice changes in a child’s behavior that indicate needing resources. Many children are not aware they are living in an abusive situation until the YWCA staff describe what that looks like.  The concern is missing those students this year.  They typically reach about 8,000 students throughout the schools. 

This program is part of the way YWCA works with the community to identify problems with connecting and accessing services by equipping the community to know what to do when. By reaching out to schools, YWCA gives teachers resilience through support in knowing how to connect students to their resources. YWCA family service staff are always seeking where they can strengthen those points of connection, ways to collaborate, and innovative solutions

It was apparent that Crosby continues to be invested in what she gained from being a Vice Chair on the Intimate Partner Violence Blue Ribbon Commission. This commission generated a report “Working Together to Promote Safe and Healthy Relationships in Santa Clara County” in 2017.   First the commission identified four pillars of change: build capacity, build the system, empower the survivor and prevent the violence.  The years invested in interviews and surveys of survivors, community members, and stakeholders from the private, public and non-profit sector culminated in 21 recommended strategies, some of which were discussed at this Round Table Talk.

In the discussion of the additional costs of supporting survivors, Crosby invited guests to thank their Supervisors for unanimously agreeing to Supervisor Cindy Chavez’s proposal of funding $500,000.00 for survivor services including human trafficking and abuse prevention.  Crosby highlighted that the state fund for survivors of sexual assault is $45,000.  All DV and IPV services are 90 to 95 percent funded by grants. Crosby referred to grants as “the swiss cheese”, and local donations were the “avocado” that filled the holes.  But fundraising is often done with Spring events, and all had to be canceled this Spring.

It isn’t only monetary donations that are needed for YWCA and Community Solutions, the families they support have a need for diapers, formula, face masks for Covid-19 protection, and gift cards for survivors and their families.  More importantly attendees were encouraged to tell 5 friends about the services that are ready to support their courageous choices.  They had worked on Public Service Announcements, but word of mouth spreads hope best.  

The definition of success Crosby shared is in supporting a survivor to heal, be safe and achieve what they choose.  It is important to know that success may not involve prosecution.  Choices are very individualized and survivor based. That is why it is important to get the word out that a survivor can always access support without a police report.   

Links to other resources mentioned

Asian Americans for Community Involvement offer services to survivors including medical and mental health support.

Survivors can chat real time with live advocates.  Manned by four of the County agencies, in Spanish and English.  Aimed at responding to intimate partner violence.  Service was expanded to address the 300% increase in calls over the month of May. 

Since 1971, NDS has helped thousands of survivors and families move out of crisis and violence and into safety, stability and self-sufficiency

Final Comment….You will notice that each section has overlaying comments from all the special guests. What impressed me the most during this discussion was the cohesion between all three that they claimed extended throughout other survivor service providers in the County. During a time of crisis in education, I wonder if the imposed collaboration of the current situation will be something that continues beyond this Pandemic. As an advocate I know the value of being able to supply a person a menu of resource options and be well versed on them. For Crosby, Lt. Lang and Flores, the menu was survivor-centered for Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence and victims of Human Trafficking. My hope is to have a menu that is student-centered for education.