Child Abuse Declines, Abuse of Dependent Adults Up in San Francisco

An annual multi-department report on family violence found that also found that guns continue to pose a lethal threat in domestic violence.

The color purple lights up San Francisco City Hall in honor of domestic violence. (Courtesy Photo)

Child fatalities stemming from abuse is down but dependent adult abuse has increased in San Francisco, according to the latest report on family violence released Tuesday.

The eighth annual report from San Francisco Family Violence Council also found that while several areas are improving, people of color are still impacted at disproportionate rates and guns continue to pose a lethal threat in domestic violence. The report written by the Department on the Status of Women staff connects data from more than 10 city agencies and 27 community organizations on various forms of abuse for fiscal year 2017, which begins in July for San Francisco.

“San Francisco has made a deep commitment to connect the dots between child, domestic violence, and elder abuse,” says Katie Albright, executive director of child and family services nonprofit Safe & Sound, and member of the council. “We are seeing significant impact.”

Like the report, Albright pointed the key role community organizations play in supporting survivors, up 11 percent in the 2017 fiscal year. Another bright spot the council identified is that there have been no child deaths related to abuse since 2015 and cases of child abuse decreased 25 percent from last year — and by 67 percent since 2003.

Notably, the city’s Black population is around six percent but Black children account for 38 percent of substantiated abuse allegations. They are also more likely to receive some level of support through a criminal justice agency than a community group.

Though children are facing less abuse, there was an 18 percent increase in abuse cases of adults with disabilities, which may include seniors, and who are more likely to face sexual and physical abuse. In fiscal year 2017, 550 seniors received services from community groups for domestic and sexual violence.

Of the 2,316 substantiated cases of elder abuse, 555 were reported to the police. Police investigated 14 percent of elder financial abuse reports and 40 percent of reports involving elder physical abuse.

The link between domestic violence and seniors is a “big reminder to work on untreated trauma,” says Commission on the Status of Women President Debbie Mesloh. The trauma that impacts youth also cuts across gender lines. Females account for 88 percent of domestic violence cases among ages 18 to 24. 

(Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. LGBT high school students are three-and-a-half times more likely to face sexual dating violence and more than twice as likely to experience physical dating violence.)

On par with the city’s shelter crisis, one in every four domestic violence survivors were turned away at emergency shelters mostly due to lack of space. The report connects understaffing at the Department of Emergency Management and fear of deportation among immigrant communities to a decline in 911 domestic violence calls.

A significant development is the implementation of the Firearms Surrender Program by the Sheriff’s Department. Since November, it has recouped six out of seven guns from people not in compliance with domestic violence restraining orders.

At that rate, several lives could be saved — half of all domestic violence homicides since 2014 have involved guns, according to the report. Of the 911 calls family violence calls involving a weapon in the 2017 fiscal year, all of them were related to domestic violence and matched patterns in recent years.

“That’s six families that are safer,” says Beverly Upton, executive director of the Domestic Violence Consortium. “You really want to move San Francisco’s commitments of getting guns off the streets into getting guns out of the homes.”

The report made some new recommendations, which of 26 total includes: ensuring police refer children in a home during a domestic violence call to Child Protective Services, instituting a domestic violence risk assessment tool now that California reformed the cash bail system; maintaining consistent leadership and roughly double staffing at the SFPD’s Special Victim’s Unit, and translating the mandated child abuse report training for district educators into different languages while incorporating instructions for implicit bias.

Some general instructions revolve around researching the root causes of child abuse, increasing awareness of intimate partner violence among elder victims, and raising funds to asses county-wide training on family violence.

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