Domestic Violence and COVID-19

by | Jul 31, 2020 | COVID-19, Divorce Financial Planning

Recently a number of articles have been published that discuss the rise in domestic violence (DV) during the shelter-in-place order.  Many people do not realize that domestic violence has many forms. It isn’t just physical abuse, which is very serious and prevalent. There are other forms of domestic violence which are very painful and debilitating, yet not visible.  I recently sat down with Ruth Darlene, who launched her own non-profit in 2011– Women of Silicon Valley or WomenSV.  Ruth founded WomenSV to help women address the risks and challenges of being trapped in a relationship with a powerful and sophisticated abuser.  I put together a list of questions and Ruth provided helpful and informative answers along with a list of resources for all types of domestic violence.

What are the different types of DV?

Physical and sexual abuse are commonly used by abusers.  Women suffering from this type of abuse should call 911 if they or their children are in immediate danger and need intervention.  Welfare checks may not always reveal the abuse.  Also, the abuse can escalate after the welfare check.

In well-educated and wealthy areas, like many parts of the Bay Area we serve, we also see very sophisticated financial, legal, emotional and coercive control types of abuse. It is often hidden behind closed doors and secretive.  The women abused don’t speak out because they are ashamed, or they are being silenced by fear.  Often, they are afraid that no one will believe them.  It isn’t necessarily something you can see and most women do not want to talk about it.  The abuser can be someone well-known and successful–someone that no one would ever expect this type of behavior from.

A common example of financial abuse is not being given enough money to live on, or the abuser being very controlling regarding expenses. It can also extend to the children’s expenses.  These women may not have money to start a divorce procedure, and they often do not have access to joint funds.  An example of legal abuse is gaslighting–where the woman, after nights of sleep deprivation and goading, may react in some way that is turned around to present her as unstable or crazy.  The abuser may record and/or report her resulting in an arrest or psychiatric hold.  These abusers plot out their actions, and their plan may be enacted over a long period of time.

Financial abuse can veer into emotional abuse.  It might include negative statements and judgments about staying at home with the children versus earning an income because he values money above all else—or just as easily being pressured to quit to stay home with the children in order to isolate you and give the abuser more control, by making you more financially dependent on him.  Another illustration is having the abuser define their children by their GPA, looks, or other achievements.

Is there anything unique about DV and the SF Bay Area?

People don’t believe that abuse happens in educated and wealthy areas, but it happens everywhere.  In nicer neighborhoods, it can be much more sophisticated and difficult to detect.  In the Bay Area, we’ve helped over 1300 women who fall into the educated and financially well-off categories over the past nine years.  During the Shelter-in-Place (SIP) it can be much more challenging to find a safe place to escape to, and access to friends and family can be difficult or impossible.  During the SIP, people are afraid to allow new people into their homes. Rentals at this time can be challenging even if you have access to funds.  Landlords can be hesitant to show places as well.

Are you seeing an increase in DV during the SIP?

Definitely–we are getting more and more calls at this time.  (See what you can do to be prepared in a later question).

What can a family member or friend do or say to help?

They can call and encourage their friend to get help now via phone, email, or Zoom calls and/or develop a plan for when the SIP is lifted.  Organizations like WomenSV can help now during SIP by working with them to develop their plan, and then help them execute the plan once SIP ends.  They can also provide counseling and a list of helpful books.  See the list at the end of this interview.

Are there therapists who specialize in domestic violence situations?

Many therapists do not have this type of specialized training and treat DV as a communication issue.  Some therapists do really understand the issues, but it isn’t typical to have extensive training in this area.   Also, if they try therapy as a couple, many abusers sound great and are adept at deceiving the therapist.  It is much more effective to get help alone or in a group with trained people at places like WomenSV.  You would be surprised at the number of women who say that no one believes them—but we do, and statistics are on our side since 85-95% of domestic violence victims are female.  It is also helpful to ask if the therapist has extensive training in personality disorders.  This training can be very helpful.

If victims are very intimidated, are there steps they can take to get them into a position where they can ask for or get help, either now or after the shelter in place is lifted?

They can call WomenSV or other resources that help abused women.  They can start speaking with and becoming familiar with a local law enforcement person who has experience dealing with domestic abuse, especially if they think they may need a restraining order sometime in the future.  Because of the sophistication of some abusers, it can be helpful to have some interaction with law enforcement ahead of time.  Understand that it can take a lot of planning and support to remove oneself and one’s children from an abusive situation.

There are also a number of books that may be helpful until they can put a plan into action or seek help.  Understanding the issues and learning that it isn’t their fault is so helpful.  These books can be downloaded on a Kindle or listened to, which may help avoid detection.  Here are some helpful choices:

  • Why Does He Do That?Lundy Bancroft
  • Not to People Like UsSusan Weitzman
  • Splitting William Eddy
  • The Batterer as Parent – Lundy Bancroft
  • When Dad Hurts Mom – Lundy Bancroft
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go? – Lundy Bancroft
  • See more resources below…

Women should also consider keeping a log to note when the abuse is happening, what is going on, what it is about and how they feel.  This includes surveillance, being tracked, or spied upon.

Reading these books and/or talking to WomenSV can help victims understand that the abuse is not about them, it is about the abuser.  No one deserves to be abused, ever. Abusers desire power and control, and they can be vengeful and punitive.  Talking to Women SV, or other organizations can be a very powerful step in acknowledging and validating what survivors are going through.

WomenSV teaches and uses the Gray Rock Method. You can also do some reading to learn about this Method.  This method helps women define and understand what is being done to them–by putting labels on the behaviors, it can help them not take it so personally.  In a crisis, it is useful to identify the tactics being used.  However, you do not want to call the abuser on his tactics, nor get pulled into the abuser’s game.  It really helps to understand cycles of abuse and how to remove yourself.  Learning how to deflect, distract, and choose your battles helps you control your reactions and overactions.  It is also very helpful to learn ways to protect yourself if the abuser isn’t getting the reaction he craves.

Is there any other information you feel is important to get out to those who may be experiencing domestic violence?

WomenSV is a dedicated resource for those being abused, of whom 85%-95% are women.  WomenSV can be a great resource, and they will even go with you to meet your family law attorney, to court and/or to meet with the police if needed.  WomenSV works directly with clients and also provides professional training and public awareness about domestic violence in higher-income and well-educated communities.


Articles with Ruth Darlene about tech abuse, financial abuse, and abuse during SIP:

Domestic Abusers Can Control Your Devices. Here’s How to Fight Back.

Financial Abuse in the age of smartphones

Domestic violence resources:

WOMAN, Inc. in San Francisco: Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (877) 384-3578. Also offering remote counseling and support services;

About Ruth Darlene, CEO of Women SV

Ruth Darlene Headshot

Ruth Darlene’s educational background includes a double Master’s in English Literature and Education and California state certification in domestic violence advocacy. At Stanford’s Center for Research in Disease Prevention, Ruth worked as a teacher and curriculum writer in a study designed to raise awareness about eating disorders. She subsequently adapted their research model to create her own program in 2011 to address the problem of domestic abuse in upscale communities. Under the fiscal sponsorship of Los Altos Community Foundation, she launched her own non-profit in 2011, called Women of Silicon Valley or WomenSV. WomenSV became an independent 501 (c) 3 non-profit in 2017.

Ruth created WomenSV to help survivors address the risks and challenges of being trapped in a relationship with a powerful, sophisticated abuser. She also offers professional trainings to assist providers such as therapists, physicians, law enforcement, attorneys and teachers in becoming more trauma-informed in working with survivors who are involved with a powerful, sophisticated abuser. This type of abuser not only engages in physical and sexual violence but often uses other tactics to coerce and control their intimate partner. These tactics don’t always rise to the level of police intervention. Ruth’s program steps in to fill that gap in services and offer strategies to address not only physical and sexual violence, but more subtle forms of abuse such as financial, legal, technological and emotional abuse. Ruth also gives public presentations to the community and works with the media to raise awareness about the impact of domestic violence in middle-to-upper income areas.

WomenSV offers their client services free of charge because of rampant financial abuse in this demographic, and because Ruth believes that no one should have to pay to be free and safe in their own home. WomenSV is therefore sustained by donations from individuals as well as from local government agencies, service clubs and foundations. Over the past 9 years, Ruth has personally served over 1,300 domestic abuse survivors, including 8 men.

Ruth’s professional trainings include the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) annual international conference, Oracle and Google global security, Kaiser and Valley Medical Center, Santa Clara County (SCC) Superior Court, SCC’s Domestic Violence Council’s Annual Domestic Violence Conference, SCC Bar Association, Sacramento County Bar Association, SCC District Attorney’s Office, Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS), Palo Alto University, Santa Clara University Counseling Psychology program, Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC), California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists(CAMFT), Family Court Services, SCC Probation Department and the SCC Psychological Association.

The work of WomenSV has gained national recognition and has been featured in the Investigation Discovery Channel documentary, Behind Closed Doors: Shocking Secrets; the Megyn Kelly Today Show; The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; Silicon Valley Business Journal (SVBJ); K-LOVE radio, and Good Morning America. Ruth is an SVBJ Woman of Influence Honoree recipient. Other recognition of her work includes the Jefferson Award for Public Service from CBS affiliate KPIX, Mountain View Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Leaders award and Mid-Peninsula Media Center Local Hero’s award.  Her mission and the mission of WomenSV continue to be to promote the fundamental human right of every woman and child in every neighborhood to live in peace and safety in their own home.

Women of Silicon Valley  (WomenSV)

WomenSV is a non-profit program for women suffering from involvement with partners who abuse their power, money, social status, and influence. WomenSV never charges for client services because of rampant financial abuse in this demographic which leaves many survivors with crippling debt and because of the belief that it is every woman and child’s basic human right to live in peace, safety and freedom in their own home and they shouldn’t have to pay to exercise that right. WomenSV therefore relies solely on donations to sustain survivor services and programs which are in even greater demand now as a result of COVID-19. For more information or to make a donation: Visit or call 833-WOMENSV or 833-966-3678. 

The mission of WomenSV:

Educating providers and the general public about domestic violence in the professional community. Supporting and educating victims of powerful, sophisticated abusers and connecting women with resources to help them and their children deal more safely and effectively with all forms of domestic abuse including emotional, financial, technological and legal. WomenSV runs a helpline, a weekly support group, and provides long-term individualized education, support and safety planning for each survivor. We also do presentations in the community and trainings for providers to help them become more trauma informed in serving survivors in middle-to-upper income areas.

Clari Nolet, CFP®, CDFA® has a passion for assisting women in transition. Whether going through a divorce or losing a spouse, having a trusted partner can make all the difference. She works closely with clients’ advisors including, but not limited to family law attorneys, mediators, CPAs, and forensic CPAs. She assists women by providing a clear picture of their current situation and helps them organize and build their financial life by setting and supporting their goals as they reinvent themselves.

Clari Nolet 2020

Team Hewins, LLC (“Team Hewins”) is an SEC-registered investment adviser; however, such registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training, and no inference to the contrary should be made. We provide this information with the understanding that we are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or tax services. We recommend that all investors seek out the services of competent professionals in any of the aforementioned areas. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely of the author and interviewee and not of the firm.

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