By Joyce Dudley
I have heard the COVID-19 shelter in place order referred to as “The Great Pause.”
As someone who has been a prosecutor for 30 years, I agree with the phrase. But these days I spell the word pause differently. I spell it P-A-W-S, as I envision the great paws of an angry bear, or in this situation, the hands of a perpetrator. And I see these great big paws committing horrendous acts of domestic violence, spousal rape and child, elder and animal abuse.
I also see those paws reaching for alcohol, drugs, a victim’s cell phone and, worst of all, a gun or a knife.
But after decades in this business, I also see the helpers (as Mr. Rogers called them).
I see the ones who can stop the violence. I see you, our community members.
As Gordon Graham often said, “If a crime is predictable — it is preventable.”
In addition, we know right now, during our forced shelter in place order, these crimes are predictable but rarely being reported by frightened victims who are forced to remain in isolation, behind closed and slammed doors.
We also know these crimes are preventable, if we can only reach our victims and give them not just a safe route out, but also wrap around services to keep them out of harm’s way and onto a safe path forward.
Toward that end, in early March I contacted all of our police chiefs, the sheriff and our fire chief to discuss making in-home crimes our greatest priority. I then attended press conferences, appeared on TV, radio, the internet and, along with our sheriff’s office, participated in the creation and distribution of thousands of flyers, which were placed in grocery stores, pharmacies and in our food bank’s emergency boxes and bags. These flyers are in English and Spanish, and they clearly state if you feel, see, hear or even sense abuse is occurring — call 911.
If you are not comfortable making that call, try our newly created 24/7 DA Victim/Witness Advocate Hotline, where a bilingual advocate will be available to talk to you any time of day or night at (805) 568-2400.
Many victims of in-home crimes feel helpless and voiceless. Please be the best community member you can be and speak up for them.
If you don’t make that call and a voiceless victim suffers irreparable harm, you will never forgive yourself.
On the other hand, if your call saves someone’s life you will know for the rest of your life that you were a lifesaver — the best kind of hero.
• Joyce Dudley is the district attorney of Santa Barbara County.