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Coronavirus and California’s rape crisis centers

A woman wearing a surgical mask for protection against the coronavirus. Photo: Maridav, via Shutterstock)

When a person who has been sexually assaulted or is trying to escape a domestic violence situation comes to either of Community Solutions’ two offices, they will notice two things.

First, the doors are open. Second, the waiting room has no chairs. As is the case with all of California’s 84 rape crisis centers, Community Solution is continuing to provide services to clients in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Community Solution operates offices in Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County and in Hollister in San Benito County. The chairs in the lobby have been removed in order to encourage social distancing. In each office are three staff members who will see anyone who walks through the door immediately.

A hold on meeting and events is a minor inconvenience of shelter-in-place when one considers the plight of those in sexually abusive or violent living situations.

Community Solutions is providing rape crisis counseling for survivors who are admitted to a hospital, and if a client needs housing or further assistance, advocates are available to assist. Case work is continuing, though remotely. Community Solutions’ 24-hour crisis line is staffed and operational.

A survey of the state’s rape crisis centers confirms that, as with Community Solutions, the agencies continue to operate their crisis phone lines. Most continue to offer counseling in person or by phone. Due to the state and local shelter-in-place orders and social distancing measures, meeting and events are on hold, have been canceled, or are postponed.

A hold on meeting and events is a minor inconvenience of shelter-in-place when one considers the plight of those in sexually abusive or violent living situations.

A statement from Family Services of Tulare County explains: “In the current situation, when victims are in close proximity to their abusers, they may not have an opportunity to make a private phone call.  In fact, trying to do so could be a major safety risk for them.  We know that  domestic violence is continuing to happen in the home, and possibly at even at a more rapid or dangerous rate with the increased stressors of having children at home, lack of work, lack of money, and the increase anxiety over what’s happening globally.”

Those who run rape crisis programs worry that the drop in new cases will lead to cuts in future funding.

This concern is backed up by Community Solutions’ Perla Flores. Flores reports that her agency has seen a significant drop in sexual assault and domestic violence survivors seeking help.

In the first week of March, Community Solutions was seeing 40 individual drop-in clients a day. One week later, before Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order took effect, walk-ins had dropped to 16 clients in one week.  Flores believes the decline can be attributed to COVID-19 fears and the necessary measures enacted to arrest the spread of the virus.

Other providers told Capitol Weekly that they agreed with Flores’ assessment, as well as that of Family Services of Tulare County.

Although the state’s Office of Emergency Services and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women have assured providers that grants will continue, those who run rape crisis programs worry that the drop in new cases will lead to cuts in future funding.

One director of a cash-starved program is concerned that the COVID-19 crisis will derail a request for increased funding in the 2020-21 state budget.

On March 24, the state Finance Department — the powerful agency that writes the governor’s budgets — sent a cautionary memo to agencies that said “all budget changes” will be reevaluated “within the context of a workload budget” and the availability of funding.

Further, many rape crisis centers are concerned about the cancellations of fund-raising events, such as award banquets and walk-a-thons — events that raise not only money but awareness.

Even with these concerns, rape crisis centers and their partners working with domestic violence survivors say they will continue to operate crisis lines and offer services and plan to continue to do so during the coronavirus crisis.

Here is a list of agencies who run rape crisis, domestic violence, and human trafficking hotlines, as well as offer services.


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