Story by: DAVID CRUZ

With New York on “PAUSE” and all residents advised to stay inside as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19, there is increasing concern that the new restrictions will further endanger victims of domestic violence, who may be sharing a home with their abuser. And although NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said police have not seen an uptick in 911 calls related to domestic violence following the home-bound order, there has been a spike in online visitors to the city’s domestic violence resource website

NYC HOPE, offering online resources to domestic violence victims and survivors, said it saw a major spike of visitors to the group’s website with 1,240 visits—an average of 95 visits a day—from March 18 and 30. The site also recorded 354 new visitors. Before the outbreak, the website saw less than half that, with an average 45 visits per day. The spike came a day after the city’s five Family Justice Centers, which offer confidential assistance to victims and survivors, temporarily closed because of the virus.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, which oversees the website, confirmed the figures to Gothamist, which were first published by Politico yesterday.

“Survivors need us now more than ever in these extraordinary times, and our top priority remains to ensure continuity of services and unwavering support,” said agency commissioner Cecile Noel, in a statement. “COVID-19 puts into sharp focus the vulnerabilities that many people in our city face every day, especially domestic violence survivors; and it highlights the barriers and challenges that we know keep people from seeking help and finding safety. The City is here for survivors during this crisis and beyond, and will continue to work to identify best practices and innovative approaches to enhance its services.”

While the office is seeing a greater spike in activity, Shea said there has been no increase in reported domestic violence 911 calls during a Q&A session that was live streamed on Twitter.

He admitted, however, there’s no way of knowing whether domestic violence survivors are hesitating to call 911 to report abuse at the home.

“[W]hat I’m concerned about is that it’s happening and it’s not getting reported on, and I think that’s a reality we should all face,” said Shea.

Shea goes on to note that each precinct has two officers regularly dedicated to making regular check-ins for domestic violence victims. He’s advised them to make the rounds via phone or email.

“The home visits have been curtailed for obvious reasons. But those high priority people we need to stay in touch with to make sure that violence isn’t happening behind closed doors and doing our best to keep people safe,” said Shea.

The NYPD released statistics this morning showing domestic violence crime is down 0.6% this year compared to last, with 2,809 reported incidents this year compared to 2,826 cases the same time a year ago. For the entire month of March this year, domestic violence cases were down 15.3% compared to the same month last year with 1,065. The last two weeks of March saw a 23.8% drop in cases, from 539 compared to 707 during that same time a year ago. Arrests have been made in domestic violence cases this month, though 15.6% less than last year, when 3,678 people were arrested last March compared to 3,104 this year.

The NYPD added that officers are “sharing safety plans and cell phone access with them and carefully setting code words for them to use as they survive in close quarters.”

As the outbreak continues to impact our daily lives, the agency is encouraging survivors to try a litany of phone numbers to get through for help:

  • Survivors can reach the city’s Family Justice Centers by Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the FJC phone lines (Brooklyn: (718) 250-5113; Bronx: (718) 508-1220; Manhattan: (212) 602-2800; Queens: (718) 575-4545; and Staten Island: (718) 697-4300.)
  • Community-based organizations and other partner agencies with ENDGBV for services that range from immediate safety planning, shelter assistance, legal consultations, counseling sessions, case management sessions, and more.
  • For evenings and weekends, survivors can call NYC’s 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 621-4673 for help on safety planning, shelter assistance and community resources.
  • Survivors with access to the internet can visit nyc.gov/NYCHOPE for additional resources and information.

Notwithstanding the scaled-back, person-to-person services, help is still available by calling 911 for emergencies. Survivors are also encouraged to calling NYC Well at (888) 692-9355 to cope with stress and anxiety.

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