The coronavirus is making virtually everyone stay at home. But what happens to victims of domestic violence who may be confined with their abuser?
Jill L. Parker, executive director of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, says there’s been an uptick in hotline calls from victims of domestic violence since the pandemic began.
Under ordinary situations, victims can get away from the situation when either they are at work or their abusive spouses are working. Or victims can go to the store or run errands to get away from the abuse.
That’s not the case, however, while victims are being quarantined.
Victims are more vulnerable during this age of self-isolation because they are forced to be in uncomfortable and dangerous situations, Mrs. Parker said.
“They can’t escape during an already bad situation,” she said.
The pandemic has forced the Victims Assistance Center and other organizations to provide hope from afar. Staff is working remotely during the pandemic.
At the beginning of the outbreak, Mrs. Parker worried how effective her response team could be during the pandemic.
Fortunately, it’s gone better than she had thought.
The Victims Assistance Center receives about 2,000 calls a year for domestic violence. While she couldn’t provide figures for them during the pandemic, Mrs. Parker said there’s been a definite increase in hotline calls.
In Watertown, city police have responded to 128 domestic calls from March 1 to April 3 this year, a 25-call increase from 2019, said Detective Lt. Joseph R. Donoghue Sr.
He thinks the increase in domestic calls can be attributed to families being cooped up in their homes and isolated from other people due to COVID-19 stay-at-home directives.
In St. Lawrence County, the dispatch system recorded about the same number of calls for this month, compared to last year, with 126 in 2019 and 123 this year.
St. Lawrence County Undersheriff Sean P. O’Brien cannot say what kind of impact that the coronavirus epidemic is having on domestic violence.
“It’s too early to tell at this point,” he said.
Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli said his department hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in calls, although domestic violence statistics were not available.
But Undersheriff O’Brien did note that while dispatchers usually receive information about domestic incidents from habitual callers — the same St. Lawrence residents frequently reporting incidents — staff have noticed several new callers who haven’t reported incidents in the past.
The subject of domestic violence calls also came up on Friday during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing on COVID-19.
Domestic violence calls have jumped as much as 20 percent statewide during the coronavirus pandemic, a state official said.
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said state police have reported an increase in domestic violence cases, with calls up by as much as 15 to 20 percent.
Even during a time of social distancing, victims can escape, she said.
“Women should know that they don’t have to stay in those situations,” she said. “We will help them relocate. We will help them find safe shelter.”
Yet Mrs. Parker says she’s more worried about the incidents of child abuse during the COVID-19 crisis.
Children are also at risk for abuse during this time of families remaining in isolation, she said. The only outlet for children is school, and schools are closed because of the pandemic, she said.
When they are in session, schools are mandated to report child abuse to the state. Mrs. Parker thinks there will be an uptick in reports of child abuse once schools reopen.
She stressed that victims can get help during the pandemic.
The Victims Assistance Center hotline operates 24 hours a day. Response team members continue to respond on-sight to victims’ homes with law enforcement but will provide case management and interviews only outside because of the threat of COVID-19, Mrs. Parker said.
Victims are continuing to be placed in the VAC’s emergency safe shelter with their children. Subsequently, they also can get help to find an apartment for them. The 20-bed shelter, however, is close to capacity while more victims need the VAC’s help.
Domestic violence cases will continue to proceed in the court system during the COVID-19 crisis, Mrs. Parker said. The courts, however, are proceeding remotely via technology.
As for child abuse cases, family courts also are handling those cases remotely on a daily basis, Mrs. Parker said.
The VAC also provides mental health services for adults and children who are victims of abuse.
Times staff writer Ellis Giacomelli contributed to this report.
By the numbers:
The Victims Assistance Center served 6,700 people in 2019. More than 2,000 were children. The VAC Response Team Advocate Program, which partners with law enforcement, received more than 2,000 calls in 2019.
On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million people.
To find help:
The Victims Assistance Center’s hotline: (315) 782-1855. The state’s domestic violence hotline number: 1-800-942-6906.