While social distancing and staying at home orders have been critically necessary to help manage and reduce the spread of Covid-19, they have also created an environment making domestic violence significantly worse and more frequent. I make this claim not based upon the data that has come in. Rather, I base it upon my experience representing victims and upon common sense.
Before Covid-19, isolating the victim from family, friends, information and resources has always been one of the tools used by the abuser to control, manipulate, and intimidate his victim. When isolation is encouraged, required, and sanctioned by the community in the form of social distancing and stay at home orders, victims can only feel more fearful and helpless.
If “domestic terrorism” were not a phrase used to describe the fear and harm inflicted upon as many people as possible, it might be a more appropriate description of what victims of domestic violence experience.
With social distancing and stay at home orders:
- the victim is even more isolated from family and friends
- victims are placed in more frequent and closer proximity with their abuser
- the abuser is able to better monitor his victim 24/7
- the abuser can instill even greater fear in his victim by giving misinformation about the pandemic
- resources that were previously available to victims are not as available
- to the extent resources are available, a victim may feel more afraid to reach out because her abuser is nearby and can check on cell phone calls and texts
- the possible loss of income of the abuser creates a further stressor and cause for violence and additional economic abuse
- drinking and substance abuse become worse and lead to increased violence
- neighbors and others who may have been more willing to get involved to be helpful may become more concerned about their own family’s hardships
For many fearful victims, seeking help may seem more out of reach than ever.
But if you reach out for help, there are several resources that have remained dedicated and available for victims in the present environment:
Hope’s Door in Westchester County—24 Hour Hotline: (888) 438-8700
My Sister’s Place in Westchester County—24 Hour Hotline: (888) 298-7233
New York State Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 942-6906
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233
These resources will provide victims with valuable information including developing detailed safety and financial plans and providing useful legal information. Help is provided by people who have experienced and overcome their own situation of domestic violence.
From a legal perspective,
- orders of protection remain available as a means toward getting some level of relief and safety
- acts of domestic violence that may have inhibited a victim’s earning capacity or ability to obtain meaningful employment has been a statutory factor to determine spousal maintenance which might cause a court to deviate upward from the statutory formula.
- and effective with divorce actions commenced on or after May 3, 2020, a new statutory factor has been added to New York’s equitable distribution law. This additional factor is: “(14) whether either party has committed an act or acts of domestic violence…against the other party and the nature, extent, duration and impact of such act or acts…” Victims of domestic violence now have a statutory basis to receive more property from the marital estate because of this new factor.