Story by: DAVID CRUZ

With domestic violence reports soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials have launched a confidential chat and texting service for victims seeking help. The services, available 24 hours a day, are intended to add even greater discretion to victims confined indoors with abusers during the state’s lockdown order.

Officials with the state Office to Combat Domestic Violence launched the chat and text service on Friday. Users can instantly chat with a professionally trained advocate through its direct message system, and can remain anonymous as they report instances of domestic violence or fears of being attacked. Officials are encouraging New Yorkers to store the number on their phone under a fake name.

“This new text program and confidential online service will help make it easier for victims to get the help they need and get out of potentially dangerous situations,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

The add-ons come amid a surge in the number of domestic violence reports. So far this month, there’s been a 30% rise in domestic violence cases reported to the state’s hotline–a few weeks after the PAUSE order took effect–when compared to the same time last year. Meantime, State Police took in 15% more incident calls in March compared to the same month last year.

Services available to victims and survivors include housing relocation, free counseling, and court accompaniment.

Officials have attributed the spike to the stay-at-home order that forced domestic violence victims to remain home, often with their abusers. Placing a phone call for help has since posed problems for domestic violence victims.

“The reality is that abuse victims are often closely surveilled by their abuser,” Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor who doubles as chair of the New York State Council on Women and Girls, said in a statement.

Meantime, New York City–still the epicenter of the outbreak–has seen an uptick in domestic violence-related murders with 19 reported incidents, four more when compared to the same time last year.

NYC HOPE, the website managed by city’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, has seen a major increase in the number of visitors since the city’s Family Justice Centers were temporarily closed ever since March 18th. Before FJCs closed, the website ranked an average 40 visits and six new visitors each day. Now, the site has seen a total of 31,228 visits and 12,009 new visitors since the center’s closure. That averages out to 844 visits and 325 new visitors per day.

More than half the website visitors sought a listing of neighborhood resources, staying safe online, and recognizing the signs of gender-based violence.

The chunk of that spike is linked to the Notify NYC text alerts sent weekly since April 6th.

Those seeking help from the state are encouraged to text (844) 997-2121.

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