Advocates reach out to domestic abuse victims as calls for assistance rise since COVID-19

Calls to domestic abuse hotlines have risen locally and nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic and advocates are trying to reach victims in innovative ways, according to prosecutors and Childhelp, a group that helps abused children.

Calls to the Alameda County Family Justice Center, which helps abuse victims locally, have risen from 45 in March to 264 in June, county prosecutors said. Additional calls may have been taken by police, according to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Nationally, calls to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline were up 31 percent in March, 17 percent in April, 43 percent in May and 32 percent in June compared to the same months last year.

“In the beginning of the shelter-in-place, which for us happened on March 17 of this year, we were very concerned,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said.

“Because we weren’t getting calls about domestic violence, we weren’t getting calls about child abuse,” she said.

So, Alameda County prosecutors opened the Family Justice Center in case victims could get away. Also, the center’s navigators, who take calls from victims, started calling clients of the justice center.

When they did that, they found that victims were willing to talk and tell the navigators that they needed a safe place to go to get away from their abuser, O’Malley said.

When navigators first began to call, over 150 women said they would have gotten away and left their house if they could, according to O’Malley.

“People just didn’t have access to tell anyone,” O’Malley said.

To let them know that it was OK to tell someone about the abuse, Alameda County has been running commercials on local Comcast stations. The commercials are geared toward children to tell them it is all right to tell someone.

Prosecutors are now seeing an increase in calls from victims and their friends, too, O’Malley said.

Prosecutors in Alameda County have also created videos that run on social media sites, such as Facebook, providing resources to help victims.

About 4,300 people have clicked on links to find resources for help in the area. The videos have been viewed more than 16,000 times and reached more than 140,000 people, Teresa Drenick, spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said.

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