How Domestic Violence Survivors Can Get Help During Coronavirus Shutdown
By Courtney Bellio, McKinley Irvin family law attorney
As shelter in place orders take effect across the country, the reality is that staying home isn’t safe for everyone. Many may find themselves forced to stay in close proximity with their abusers.
Survivors of domestic violence may now find their abusers using the pandemic as a tool to gain more control. Examples of this may include withholding necessary items such as disinfectants, spreading misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten the survivor, preventing the survivor from seeking medical attention, withholding insurance cards, or initiating/escalating isolation of the survivor from friends and family. If you share children with a partner or former partner, he or she may also use the pandemic as a mechanism for denying you access to the children. If this happens, you may want to consult a family law attorney to find out if there’s anything you can do.
However, there are still ways survivors can protect themselves and their children during the lockdown. A good place to start is to develop a safety plan.
What is a Safety Plan?
A safety plan is a personalized plan for remaining safe while in the relationship, planning to leave, or after leaving the relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a number of resources for developing a plan while living with an abuser. These include, but are not limited to, identifying safe areas of the house where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape, letting trusted friends or neighbors know about the situation and developing a code word or visual signal for when you need help, keeping guns, knives, and other weapons locked away, and practicing how to leave the house safely.
Trying to maintain as much normal contact as possible with friends and family can also help keep you safe, although this may become more complicated with everyone now confined to their homes. Additional resources for developing safety plans can be found here: https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/
How to Obtain a Protective Order
If you are in imminent danger and fear for your personal safety or that of your family, obtaining a protective order (often referred to as a restraining order) against your abuser may be another option. Oregon courts remain open on a limited basis to issue protective orders. Paperwork to file a protective order can be obtained at your local courthouse and downloaded from the courthouse website. You can also work with an attorney to file for a protective order.
Oregon has several different types of protective orders, but the two most common are:
- Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) restraining orders
- Stalking Protective Orders
The requirements and results for each one differ. If you have questions about whether you would meet the criteria for a protective order, you should consult with an attorney.
Obtaining a FAPA Restraining Order
If a FAPA order is granted and you share a residence with your abuser, you can ask the court to remove the abuser from your residence. If you share children with your abuser, the court may also grant you temporary custody of the children subject to the abuser’s reasonable parenting time. The order may also require that the abuser not contact you at all, either in person, by mail, by phone, etc.
The order remains in effect for one year and can be renewed each year after that. However, the abuser may request a hearing within 30 days to challenge the validity of order.
There are three requirements for obtaining a FAPA restraining order in Oregon:
Relationship—the person against whom you are seeking the FAPA restraining
order must fall into one of the following categories:
- Your current or former spouse or a registered domestic partner
- Someone you live with in a sexually intimate relationship (or used to)
- Someone you have a sexually intimate relationship with (or did within the last 2 years)
- Related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption
- The parent of your child
Abuse—the person against whom you seek the FAPA restraining order
must have committed abuse against you within the last 180 days. Abuse
means that he or she has:
- Physically injured you, or
- Tried to physically injury you, or
- Made you afraid that he or she was about to physically injure you, or
- Made you have sexual relations against your wishes by using force or threat of force
- Ongoing danger—You must be in imminent danger (very soon) of further abuse.
Obtaining a Stalking Protective Order
A stalking protective order has different criteria than a FAPA restraining order, but does not require that you meet any specific relationship requirements in order to obtain this protective order:
- Within the two years before the request for the order, the person against whom the order is sought engaged in repeated (at least two times within the last two years) and unwanted contact with your or a member of the your immediate family or household that is alarming (causes fear) or coercive (forceful)
- It is reasonable for you to be alarmed or coerced by the contacts
- The repeated and unwanted contact causes you to fear for the personal safety of yourself or a member of your immediate family or household.
Serving a Protective Order
Once you have obtained either a FAPA restraining order or a stalking protective order, you must serve the other person with a copy of the order. You cannot serve the order yourself. The courthouse will be able to provide you with information about having the local sheriff’s office serve the order. If you share a residence with the person against whom you have obtained a protective order, you should try to avoid returning to the home or being around the other person when the order is served.
Domestic Violence Help
While COVID-19 may mean many businesses or other resources have reduced access to services, there are still many resources available to you if you are experiencing any form of violence during this time.
IMPORTANT: If you are experiencing an emergency or you are in immediate danger, call or text 911.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 is free and open 24/7. If you can't talk on the phone safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
- Call to Safety (Formerly Portland Women’s Crisis Line): 503-235-5333 or Toll-Free 1-888-235-5333
- Aging & Disability Services 24hr. Help Line: 503-988-3646
- Child Abuse Hotline: 503-731-3100 or Toll-Free 1-800-509-5439
- Alcohol & Drug Helpline: 1-800-923-HELP or 503-244-1312; for Spanish call 1-877-515-7848
- Multnomah County Crisis Line: 503-988-4888
Domestic Violence Emergency Shelters
- Bradley-Angle House: 503-281-2442
- Clackamas Women’s Services: 503-654-2288
- Columbia Co. Women’s Resource Center: 1-503-397-6161
- Domestic Violence Resource Center: 503-469-8620
- Safechoice/Vancouver YWCA: 1-360-695-0501
- Salvation Army West Women’s & Children’s: 503-224-7718
- Yolanda House of YWCA: 503-977-7930 or 503-535-3266