Relations Reporting on marriage, family, and sexuality

Abuse in quarantine

Family | With Americans stuck at home, some are forced to quarantine with their abusers
by Mary Jackson
Posted 4/17/20, 04:58 pm

The president of FOCUS Ministries, a Christian nonprofit for victims and survivors of domestic violence, grew concerned when the organization’s phone lines went silent in the days following various statewide orders to stay at home due to COVID-19. “We know from past experience that [victims] are often not OK. … They may be afraid to reach out,” Paula Silva said.

By last week, the Chicago-area ministry had reached its normal flow of hotline calls again. But Silva said callers, mostly women, reported their situations had intensified since the pandemic began. Advocates at FOCUS help women access resources and come up with a safety plan if they face danger. They also pray with them and share the hope of Christ.

The stress, uncertainty, and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increase in domestic violence reports in some cities, as many victims live under the same roofs as their abusers. In recent weeks, police departments in cities like Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and Charlotte, N.C., have reported a spike in domestic violence cases. Chicago saw a 15 percent increase in the number of domestic violence calls during the first week of April, compared to the same period last year. New York’s domestic violence resource website, NYC Hope, jumped from an average of 45 visits per day to 115.

In other cities, such as Los Angeles, the number of domestic violence calls remained the same. Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit organization for sexual and domestic violence survivors, said the reason could be that “more survivors are managing their safety from home. … There’s a lot of walking on eggshells.”

Christina So, a spokeswoman for The National Domestic Violence Hotline, said her operators had not seen an uptick in calls. But abuse advocates have reported specific ways COVID-19 is affecting victims and survivors: One caller considered returning to an abusive relationship because local shelters were turning away new residents, citing coronavirus concerns. Another abuse survivor had no place to take her four children since extended family members are high-risk for COVID-19. Other hotline callers reported emotional abuse had turned physical, or abusive partners were leveraging COVID-19 to further isolate, coerce, and harm them.

“Isolation is one of the strongest tactics an abuser can use,” So said. “Many survivors don’t even have the safety or privacy to reach out.”

At Peace Over Violence, Giggans said the organization is working with the Los Angeles Police Department and other groups to set up temporary housing at local hotels for domestic violence victims and their children.

Meanwhile, FOCUS has moved its regular support groups—located in various parts of Illinois, Georgia, and Washington—to online platforms. It has canceled training workshops for new support group leaders, and advocates are working harder to help victims create safety plans or obtain services from local shelters, churches, transitional homes, and food banks.

Silva, a survivor of domestic abuse, founded the ministry 25 years ago with another woman from her church. For now, the group is relying on phones and computers to offer support and prayer. But Silva’s message to abused women has not changed: “I encourage them to read the Psalms. I tell them, ‘God has one for you to cling to.’”

‘Transparency matters’

A new California bill could hold insurance companies criminally liable if they inform parents or guardians their young adult children are using their benefits to obtain “sensitive” medical services such as “transgender health, including gender-affirming care.”

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California is promoting the bill, which also covers abortion, drug abuse and mental health treatment, cross-sex hormones, and sex-change operations.

A fact sheet from the bill’s author, state Sen. Hannah Beth-Jackson, a Democrat, said the measure is necessary for young people under 26 who remain on the health insurance plans of their parents, who may disagree with their choices.

California state law currently allows minors to receive medical services and procedures without parental consent in cases of abortion, birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, mental health drugs and counseling, sexual assault, and substance abuse.

Except for children in the foster care system, California youth under age 18 must have parental consent to receive puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones.

Pro-family groups warned that the bill moves the state closer to stripping parental rights.

“Transparency matters,” said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. “The owner of an insurance policy deserves to know what medical procedures they are paying for. If an adult under 26 wants insurance privacy, they can and should purchase their own insurance.”

The bill will get a Senate committee hearing after state lawmakers return in May. —M.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times (file) Associated Press/Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times (file) Naasón Joaquín García

Dismissed, but not vindicated

A California appeals court dismissed on procedural grounds the criminal case against a Los Angeles megachurch leader facing charges of child rape and human trafficking.

Naasón Joaquín García, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo (Spanish for “The Light of the World”) has been behind bars since June on charges involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Last year, prosecutors added allegations of child pornography possession. García, 50, denies any wrongdoing and remains the spiritual leader of the church. The Guadalajara, Mexico–based organization claims to have 5 million followers worldwide.

The appeals court ruled that the Los Angeles County Superior Court must dismiss the 29 counts against García because his preliminary hearing didn’t happen in a timely manner and he did not waive his right to one. The charges range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to forcible rape of a minor.

“In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the attorney general has sought to strip Mr. García of his freedom without due process by locking him up without bail based on unsubstantiated accusation by unnamed accusers and by denying him his day in court,” García’s lawyer, Alan Jackson, said.

But García is not out of the woods. A Southern California woman filed a federal lawsuit in February against him and the church. She said García and his deceased father, Samuel Joaquín Flores, sexually abused her for 18 years beginning when she was 12, manipulating Bible verses to convince her that the abuse was a gift from God. That lawsuit will continue despite the dismissal, the woman’s attorneys said last week. —M.J.

COVID-19 rains on the pride parade

June is Pride Month. In San Francisco, pro-LGBT displays throughout the city that month culminate with the annual LGBT pride parade, which usually attracts up to 1 million people. But not this year: Citing COVID-19 concerns, organizers canceled it on Tuesday.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the event, commemorating the June 1969 confrontation between police and LGBT patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Since March, LGBT organizers have canceled more than 220 pride parades worldwide due to the pandemic. Instead of parading on the streets, LGBT activists plan a 24-hour livestreamed event—at least innocent bystanders this year can tune out the often vulgar displays associated with these events. —M.J.

Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Geenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. Follow her on Twitter @mbjackson77.

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