COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Dire Domestic Violence Situations

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By Phoebe Glick

SACRAMENTO – In the case of Michael Smith, Deputy District Attorney Kelly Clark pushed for an accelerated pace of proceedings in Sacramento County Superior Court Monday, citing concern for the women victimized by Smith.

Smith is accused of felony assault and battery, as well as a misdemeanor stalking charge that Clark pushed to escalate to a felony.

Though previous court orders had been in place restricting Smith’s interaction with the women, one texted a picture of herself and her child, ostensibly at his behest. Clark noted this was meant to show the woman she was being watched, and exclaimed: “[No contact orders aren’t] effective, is the problem.”

As a condition of his release before a bail evaluation Monday, Smith was served with two no-contact orders prohibiting him from interaction with the women, and the court admonished Smith that “no contact means no contact of any kind.”

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates already tense conditions in nearly every situation, and domestic violence is no exception, according to a UCLA study.

Led by Jeffrey Brantingham, the study analyzed two cities, Los Angeles and Indianapolis. Researchers found that relative to time periods before shelter-in-place orders were implemented, the cities analyzed saw significant increases in domestic violence related police calls, even as other crime calls held constant or decreased.

Researchers theorized that as domestic violence “thrives behind closed doors,” an order confining many people to their homes would lead to an increase in violent incidents. Indeed, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen a nine percent increase in contact in March through May of this year, compared with the same months last year.

These increases are especially disquieting considering that many cases of domestic violence go underreported to police and hotlines, according to studies. And stay-at-home orders compound that with an existing stigma, as survivors spending more and more time confined at home with abusers find it increasingly difficult to find discreet help.

In the court, protections exist but are limited. Many defendants accused of domestic violence are subject to higher bail amounts, despite zero or lower emergency bail schedules proposed to lessen jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means defendants without means to pay higher bail amounts will remain in custody. Courts will also issue no-contact orders to prohibit defendants from interacting with victims—but with spotty enforcement, this measure offers little comfort to some.

Especially in a time when domestic violence is at a high, legal remedies may need to be supplemented with community-based programs or shelters.

Programs such as A Community For Peace or WEAVE (Women Escaping a Violent Environment) offer emergency or long-term housing in the Sacramento area.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 phone service at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY, chat service at thehotline.org, or texting service (activate by texting LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474).

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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