Prolonged sheltering in place with family members during the COVID-19 pandemic may be trapping abuse victims in dangerous situations with seemingly no way out.

Experts have speculated that the pandemic may be turning up the heat in violent households worldwide, with some countries displaying notable upticks in reported domestic violence incidents.

In Calaveras County, domestic violence-related calls to law enforcement have been fewer in number than in spring of last year. Reports filed with Child Protective Services (CPS) have also dropped significantly. However, those serving on the frontlines of abuse prevention say that the decline in reported incidents may signal an increase in victims who are suffering in silence.

Kelli Coane, Chief Administrator of the Resource Connection for Calaveras and Amador counties, said there was a similar decrease in reported domestic violence incidents during the 2015 Butte Fire disaster, though reports virtually doubled from the average as the community emerged from the crisis.

“You’re not going to call the police and escalate the situation, because you have nowhere to go,” Coane told the Enterprise. “Usually, the victim kind of vacillates between calling the police (and not calling). If you’re stuck in the same household with that person, that cycle is going to happen over and over.”

Coane says the current shelter-in-place situation is that same story “on steroids,” with victims choosing to “stick it out” until things return to normal and a call for help won’t be overheard by an abusive cohabitant.

In early April, a dramatic incident at a Murphys residence demonstrated how severely a situation can escalate when a domestic violence call led to an hours-long standoff with police and ended in a shootout and an attempted “suicide-by-cop.” The suspect, 48-year-old Alexander Koorkoff, had no prior criminal charges in Calaveras County.

Coane says it’s typical for abusers to have no criminal history due to their ability to entrap victims in a cycle of silence.

“They convince the victim it’s their fault, or if you call police, it’s going to get worse for you,” she said.

If a person is in immediate danger, Coane always recommends calling the police. But for those who aren’t ready to take that step, there are other options available – even during the pandemic.

Though COVID-19 has made it more difficult to accept new clients into domestic violence shelters, the Resource Connection has received additional funding and training to continue helping victims escape dangerous living situations.

Their domestic violence hotline – (209) 754-4011 – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for confidential guidance.

“I don’t want people to feel like there’s nothing, because there is,” Coane said. “We’re really good at figuring stuff out and being creative, and we now have more leeway to do that.”

Yet for children suffering abuse at the hands of a parent, it may be even more difficult to find help.

According to Coane, most child abuse reports are made by teachers and relatives who do not share a household with the victim. As the pandemic has forced children apart from these observers, it is also likely the cause for the decline in reports to CPS.

“This is a great concern because isolation and the absence of contact with mandated reporters doesn’t mean there is no abuse. Children are at risk,” Robin Davis, program coordinator for First 5 Calaveras and Prevent Child Abuse Calaveras told the Enterprise.

Though efforts have been taken by the county to continue in-person meetings with children who are already on the radar as abuse victims, pressures induced by the pandemic may be pushing parents into new and unhealthy interactions with their children.

“Child abuse occurs when parents find themselves in stressful situations, without community resources, and without the knowledge and skills to effectively cope,” Davis states in a press release. “During this stressful time, we all must take an active role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Calaveras County children. If you see something, say something. Parents, if you are experiencing stress and you feel this is impacting the way to care for your children, please reach out for help.”

Davis urges observers and struggling parents to call the Emergency Response Hotline at (209) 754-6677 or visit first5.calaverasgov.us for advice on reducing stressors at home.

“You are not alone, and there are professionals in the county willing and able to support you and your family during this time,” she said.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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