As coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeps the U.S. and millions of residents in New Jersey and throughout the country are ordered to stay home and away from crowds, victims of domestic violence are facing unique risks. Not only are they and their spouse/partner likely to be home for extended periods in close quarters, but there is very little opportunity to escape or connect with the outside world.
Police departments across New Jersey are reporting an uptick in domestic violence reports. For example in Hoboken, NJ.com reports a new average of 5 domestic violence calls per day. The previous average was 2 or 3. The actual number of incidents is likely higher, as domestic violence is underreported even under normal circumstances. The New Jersey Department of Children and Families estimates we could see an uptick of approximately 50 percent or more domestic violence reports at the height of this pandemic.
The New York Times noted a few examples of reports made to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Some victims had been attacked but feared seeking medical help for fear of catching the virus. One victim was threatened with being thrown out on the streets if she fell ill. Other callers were teens in abusive situations who are out of school and couldn’t turn to teachers or counselors for help.
As noted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women has experienced rape, physical battery or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their life. The chief executive of the NDVH told the Times that even if the actual number of people who experience domestic violence doesn’t increase substantially, the frequency and intensity might. Similar patterns were noted in the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
All of this is on top of the fact that domestic violence services across the country – from first responders to health care workers to domestic violence safe houses – are struggling to find a way to deliver those same services under new government restrictions, which can vary from state-to-state.
Hotlines can be a great resource. Many domestic violence shelters are still open, as they are considered essential services. They must keep pace with ever-changing regulations concerning the virus. These include constant disinfecting, monitoring newcomers for symptoms and on-site practice of social distancing. Most in-person support groups and drop-in counseling centers, however, are suspended.
With many courts across the country closing, there may be slowdowns in obtaining things like temporary restraining orders/no contact orders. However, our New Jersey domestic violence attorneys and others are working remotely to help facilitate protection for domestic violence victims and their families. Significantly, even though a hearing for a Final Restraining Order may be delayed, your local police department is able to facilitate you with obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order, even if the Courts are closed.
Legal orders of protection are considered an essential service by most jurisdictions, and many courts are working hard to ensure domestic violence survivors have access to these lifelines.
One New Jersey lawmaker, state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, seeking to curb instances of domestic violence in the coronavirus aftermath has introduced a bill that would give prosecutors the authority to impose higher penalties for domestic violence cases during any state of emergency.
We want our clients to know we are in this together, and we will work through the logistical challenges of these uncertain times to help keep our clients safe.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is still available 24-7 and in more than 200 languages. The number to call is 1-800-799-SAFE. Those facing an immediate danger should still call 911.
Our Monmouth County domestic violence attorneys can be contacted via email, phone or virtual conference. Call (732) 810-0034 or contact us through our website. We are here and offer free initial consultations. We will do our best to help you navigate the legal system to protect yourself during these uncertain times.