Stay-at-home orders causing an uptick in domestic violence reports

Photo courtesy of the New York Senate. Front page photo by Senior Airman Mariah Haddenham
Senator Roxanne Persaud wears a purple scarf for Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Day on May 14, 2019 and received an award from the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence for her leadership in passing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. State officials have seen a rise in domestic violence incidents since the stay-at-home orders took effect, placing victims in close proximity with their abusers for extended periods of time.

Many domestic violence victims are struggling with increased abuse as the COVID-19 pandemic has closed businesses and schools and forced people to isolate at home, with some living among abusive partners during a time of immense social and economic stress.

New York State Police have reported a 15 to 20 percent increase in domestic violence calls in March compared to last year. Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said on April 3 that State Police would respond to and fully investigate every domestic violence incident reported.

There was also a 30 percent increase in calls to the state’s domestic violence hotline in April compared to last year. 

On April 24, the state announced a text hotline and a confidential online chat service, both staffed 24 hours a day, that allows for victims to get help without risking a phone call that their abuses may overhear. 

“The reality is that abuse victims are often closely surveilled by their abuser,” DeRosa said Friday. “The programs we are rolling out today will provide additional and better methods for victims of domestic violence to get the help and intervention they need when they need it.”

The state has also been working on expanding access to information on resources and safety by putting up flyers in grocery stores and other essential businesses, as well as posting it on the social media accounts of things like utilities, and the Tax and Finance Department to put resources in front of a wider audience.

Though more people are reporting abusive situations, advocacy groups worry that survivors may not be able to obtain the usual support and resources they need to stay safe during a time where they are in even more danger. Studies show that people are at an increased risk of violence after they report or attempt to flee an abuser.

The New York Times reported that while reports of abuse have increased statewide, they are actually falling in New York City – not because it is not happening as often, but because people are unable to get the help they need. 

Victims find themselves having to choose between staying in an abusive situation or going to a shelter and risking COVID-19 infection. At-home visits from police and social services have stopped, courts are understaffed and orders of protection are rare as shelter in place guidelines made judges reluctant to move people from their homes, according to the New York Times article.

The CARES Act (H.R.748), an economic stimulus bill passed on March 25 to combat the economic fallout from the virus, allocated $45 million to domestic violence services across the country and $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, along with a bipartisan group of 40 other senators, wrote a letter calling for additional funding through the Department of Justice to combat the many challenges that several domestic violence organizations have faced due to the pandemic.

Organizations have been under strain due to funding and staffing issues and an increase in demand for services. According to the letter, this “strain on resources is expected to disproportionately impact traditionally underserved populations such as black and Latino communities as well as people who live in rural areas.” The letter also advocated for equitable funding to tribal communities for these services.

As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase of domestic violence incidents worldwide. Countries reported significant increases in calls to their domestic violence hotlines, but were unprepared to deal with another public health crisis while COVID-19 wreaked havoc in their communities.

“Violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, the violence looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes,” UN Secretary General António Gutteres said on April 5. “I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19.”