Story by: MIKE BAGGERMAN
Family Justice Center on resources to help victims during COVID-19 pandemic
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Domestic violence cases are on the rise in Western New York.
Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek said that there were 674 cases of domestic violence between January and April of last year. This year, the number rose to 773 from the same timeframe.
Wojtaszek said that factors like the quarantine, loss of incomes, homeschooling, and other stressors have contributed to the rise of domestic violence in Niagara County.
“In our office, we’re still conducting arraignments in court and we’re seeing nearly half of the arraignments every day (associated) with domestic violence,” Wojtaszek said Tuesday.
Erie County did not have concrete data regarding domestic violence from the district attorney’s office and our efforts to reach Central Police Services were unsuccessful. However, Mary Travers Murphy, the CEO of the Family Justice Center of Erie County, said that there has been an increase everywhere in the region, including Erie County.
“We knew when the state issued the mandate that we needed to work off-site and remotely that the incidents of domestic violence were going to skyrocket. The district attorney, John Flynn, called it a ‘powder keg’, which it’s proven to be.”
To help accommodate domestic violence victims, the Family Justice Center is still answering phones. However, despite an inability to meet with victims in person, they’re still offering all the resources they can online. Those online resources include a message box where they can privately share messages with an advocate and a button on their website that will allow a victim to quickly leave the website in case they are in danger.
FAMILY JUSTICE CENTER DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE: 716-558-SAFE (7233)
“If you need an order of protection we’ve got you covered,” Murphy said. “We’re teleconferencing with family court judges who are all working remotely at this point. They do have some (in their office) but the beauty is, thanks to technology, you don’t have to go to court to get those emergency orders of protection.”
The Family Justice Center can help draft the appropriate documents for any person who is in a domestic violence situation.
Murphy said that leaving the house isn’t always the best option because there may not be a safety plan in place. However, staying at home has caused a rise in domestic violence cases.
“Safety planning with a domestic violence advocate is key,” she said. “We’ve got new tips, tools, and technologies working for us on how to help people who can make that call. In some cases, going into the bathroom and turning on the shower with your telephone or laptop is a good option.”
There are subtle ways to contact the Family Justice Center. Murphy suggests switching the conversation to make it appear as if you are having a conversation with your boss or discussing a topic such as Clorox wipes.
“What the advocate can do very quickly in the beginning of the conversation is create a safety plan in the event that a perpetrator walks into the room and how to handle it,” she said. “We’ve had numerous, numerous successful outcomes.”
As advocates, they can also contact authorities using Zoom calls.
They are also relying on friends and family members to contact them so that those who know the victim can receive the appropriate strategies to have the difficult conversation with the victim themselves. The ultimate goal is for the victim to have the courage to contact the advocates personally.