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City officials, New Haven police, and the HOPE Family Justice Care of Greater New Haven officially kicked off Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a reminder: Abuse is up during the pandemic, and doors are open for people who need help.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro joined Mayor Justin Elicker at the kick-off event, held Tuesday at City Hall. They noted that the HOPE Family Justice Center, a program of BH Care, is available to provide services for domestic violence victims and their families, in person.

DeLauro commemorated the police department’s efforts to open the HOPE Family Justice Center of Greater New Haven last year at 142 Temple St.  She said domestic violence cases have been increasing throughout the city during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that domestic violence should be treated as a public health issue. We know that the pandemic has trapped victims with their abusers, leaving many unable to safely connect with the services that could help them,” DeLauro said. “Some cities and towns have seen increases in calls for help. Alarmingly, others have seen less, which we fear means more are going unreported.”

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year. Every nine seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten or assaulted by a current or ex-significant other. One in four men are victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

Police Chief Otoniel Reyes said that law enforcement has recognized the need to improve its handling of domestic violence.

“We’re a part of a system that at one point or another did not deal with domestic violence the same way. In some ways, it perpetrated domestic violence by virtue of an action or by virtue of trivializing the issue. When we look at the stats, years ago, we recognize that victims often reported that they were revictimized by the way law enforcement dealt with these issues. How we respond to these incidents is critical to whether or not we stop the cycle of domestic violence,” Reyes said.

New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin listed off the symptoms that domestic abuse survivors and victims are facing amid the isolation and economic destruction of the pandemic.

“Survivors and victims are at an increased risk for anxiety, depression, social isolation, substance abuse, and even suicide. As a community and nation, we have seen an increase in domestic violence incidents and arrests,” Griffin said. “These are likely symptoms of the isolation and economic destruction brought about the pandemic.”

The site manager for the HOPE Family Justice Center, Paola Serrechia, said that the exact number of cases that have arisen in New Haven throughout the Covid-19 epidemic is still undetermined. She said lethality assessment reports are up by 23 percent statewide.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. In 2019, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence received 33,711 calls to the hotline and served 37,773 victims.

“Due to the stay at home orders and restrictions of Covid-19, victims are being confined with their abusers and sustaining abuse until it becomes intolerable,” Serrechia said. “Trends that we have seen as an increase of violent crimes are shootings, stalkings, strangulations, severity of injuries, and hospitalizations. We have been having an increase in basic needs such as housing, food, baby needs, and relocation costs.”

At first during the shutdown, the HOPE Family Justice Center took cases virtually. On July 1, walk-in services reopened for victims and survivors.

“Last year, The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence served close to 8,000 individuals throughout several areas of the state,” said the director of The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services at BH Care, Esperina Stubblefield. “We provide safety, crisis counseling, food, and more. We have providers and partners that care about the safety of domestic abuse victims and their children, and to turn their lives around.”

On Wednesday, The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence will host a Sound of Hope and Candlelight vigil at 1 p.m. For more details about the vigil and additional services click here.

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