Sheltering in place for the past three months was meant to keep people safe and slow the spread of COVID-19.
For some, however, home is not a safe place. In some cases, victims of abuse were forced to shelter with their abusers. With schools and nonessential businesses closed, many who suffer neglect and harm at the hands of others were forced to do so behind closed doors.
On April 29, Alameda County District Attorney (DA) Nancy O’Malley participated in a podcast with four other DAs from across the state to discuss the impact of stay-at-home orders on victims of abuse. During the podcast, O’Malley assured her listeners many Family Justice Centers (FJC) across the country, including Alameda County’s, were open.
“Every prosecutor in this state is focusing on not only ensuring the rights of the defendant, but also making sure victims are not left out of the conversation,” O’Malley said. “We are here for victims of crime. We are open; we are working hard; and we will make sure that where we can help, we will.”
Noting her office remains open to provide services, O’Malley stressed that victims of abuse can and should still get help.
Authorities in the area said there was a steep drop in abuse reports and calls for help during March, with a spike in calls during mid-May. O’Malley said staff members are checking in on current and past victims to ensure they are safe.
“Many crimes are happening behind closed doors, and it’s likely that many people who are being victimized don’t have access to a phone or to a way to get the word out or to call for help,” O’Malley notes. “My victim-witness staff and my FJC staff are calling all the victims we have worked with in the past – not just ones who have active cases going – but victims that came to the justice center a year ago or two years ago or three years ago. (We’re) just checking in to see what they need, if they’re safe, do they need any help.”
O’Malley stated her offices have received over 200 relocation requests from victims who have been living at home with their abusers. She said a strong effort goes toward working with children to break the cycle and prevent them from growing up to fulfill the role of either abuser or victim.
Sabrina Farrell, executive director of the Alameda County FJC, reported their doors have remained open since March, though some services have been modified.
“Right now, we are not doing any on-site programming, but we are maintaining our therapy remotely. We take walk-ins and we are just doing it one family at a time,” Farrell said. “We thankfully haven’t had a surge, but we want to maintain social distance and keep out staff safe. We are still taking calls.”
Farrell added the FJC is a hub for all victims of interpersonal crime, providing one-stop access for victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, sexual assault and victims of stranger-crime.
“As soon as they contact us, we want to assess their needs and take care of them in one place,” Farrell said.
Within the FJC, which falls under the umbrella of the DA’s office, there are 25 partners working together to help victims, including the Oakland Police Department and Deaf Hope.
“Our services are still available, and we encourage people to call the FJC, because we are able to give referrals countywide for shelters, food service, anything they need,” Farrell said. “We should be the first point of contact for victims … even in COVID, there are still places victims can get help. They should not suffer in silence.”
To ensure victims can get the help they need, the DA’s office partnered with Lyft to provide free access to transportation to the FJC. Those in need can call 510-267-8800 to reach a navigator at the FJC who will arrange a ride.
To view the DA’s podcast, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_DAPodcast.
The Alameda County Family Justice Center is located at 470 27th St., Oakland. For more information, call 510-267-8800.