On Monday, December 7, NYJL’s Advocates for Public Policy welcomed elected officials and community partners to NYJL’s annual (virtual) Legislative Breakfast and introduced the organization’s 2020–2021 advocacy agenda focusing on mental health, food insecurity and domestic violence. This event specifically highlighted how COVID-19 has exacerbated the public health crisis of domestic violence and explored ways to partner in this critical work to end gender-based and intimate partner violence.
Long before the coronavirus pandemic threatened our city, the “pandemic” of intimate partner and gender-based violence has endangered the lives of countless New Yorkers. Intimate partner violence, or commonly referred to as domestic violence, includes stalking, sexual and physical violence, and psychological aggression.
In the US, during “normal times,” as many as one in four women, and one in nine men experience domestic violence. Even more tragically, domestic violence accounts for 17% of all homicides in New York City. 60% of homicide victims are female and 50% are Black. In New York State, domestic violence reports were up 30% in April 2020, compared to April 2019, and incident calls to the state increased 15% in March 2020, compared to March 2019.
Domestic violence thrives on a pattern of silence, shame, and isolation. As survivors of violence bear the burden of reporting incidents, further risking their safety, the actual number of occurrences is difficult to track and remains unknown. But now, during a pandemic when public health authorities and government officials are limiting in-person services and issuing quarantine orders, survivors of domestic violence have limited options for seeking sanctuary outside the home.
NYJL’s Legislative Breakfast explored this complex issue from a range of perspectives:
- State-level policy: New York Attorney General Letitia James;
- City-level response: Ms. Elizabeth Dank, Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel of the New York City Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence;
- Community-based services: Mr. George Lewert, Program Manager of NewYork-Presbyterian’s DOVE Program; and
- Perspective from a first responder: Ms. Kristyn Stolze, Volunteer of New York Junior League’s Crisis Intervention Committee
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office is focusing on the surge in online dating violence, particularly revenge porn, as more individuals are meeting on video chat. With 90% of victims being women, revenge porn occurs when abusive partners take screenshots or record video interactions without their partners’ knowledge or consent and then threaten to share these images with others. Last year, New York State criminalized the creation and distribution of revenge porn. But with the increased use of video dating during the pandemic, incidences of revenge porn have increased dramatically. The Attorney General shared several tips people can take to protect themselves, which include:
- • Refrain from identifying details in any intimate image or chat and
- • Use dating apps or websites that employ safety features such as alerting users that a recipient has taken a screenshot of the chat history or enabling the ability to delete pictures or messages from a chat history
For more information about this issue, please read the Attorney General’s press release here.
“COVID-19 puts into sharp focus the vulnerabilities that many people in our city face everyday, especially GBV [gender-based violence] survivors, and it highlights the barriers and challenges that we know keep people from seeking help and finding safety.” –Elizabeth Dank, Deputy Commission of the NYC Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV)
Elizabeth Dank presented an overview of the ENDGBV Office’s work through five family justice centers and partnerships with community-based organizations to connect survivors with safety planning, shelter assistance, legal services, and mental health services. Through a new public-private partnership with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, ENDGBV is using its network of service providers to directly issue emergency funds to survivors needing safety and stability.
Since March 18, 2020, ENDGBV’s NYC HOPE website has received over 112,000 visits with 33,000 new visitors. The family justice centers, which moved services online, have supported more than 18,300 clients, over 8,400 of whom are new clients, “indicating that survivors are finding ways to access critical resources.”
Ms. Dank noted the important role NYJL has played in fostering survivors’ development of critical empowerment skills that include resume creation and editing, job search strategies, and interview techniques.
On the ground: Community-based service provider
Everyday, community programs are on the front lines delivering essential services to survivors of domestic violence. George Lewert, the Program Manager of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies (DOVE) Program, described how his program is adapting to changes brought on by COVID-19. The DOVE Program provides free, comprehensive care to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse. As New York State certified crisis responders, DOVE volunteer advocates listen to clients’ stories and present resources for medical care, mental health counseling, safe housing, and legal services so survivors can make informed decisions about what is right for them.
A new class of crisis responders had just completed their training when COVID-19 emerged, resulting in the suspension of DOVE programming and volunteer service at the hospital. As people began avoiding emergency rooms (ERs) during the surge in hospitalizations in the spring, the DOVE Program noticed an involuntary withdrawal of survivors violence seeking services at the ER. Program staff moved to remote operations and were able to maintain some contact with clients. Survivors have found remote services easier to access, and the program is now providing online group services as well.
In September, the program welcomed back advocates, some are serving remotely, while others are volunteering in person at the ER department, depending on their comfort level.
Despite this challenging year, the program did receive additional funding prior to the pandemic and was able to expand to Brooklyn and a lower Manhattan hospital. The Brooklyn program just graduated its first class of advocates.
Perspective from a first responder
NYJL Crisis Intervention volunteer Kristyn Stolze shared her firsthand account as a survivor of violence and an advocate through DOVE’s program. She guided attendees through the perspective of a client, dispelling common misconceptions about survivors along the way. Stay tuned for her forthcoming News article about this journey.
Learn More or Find Help
If you are, or someone you know is, experiencing violence and would like help, please refer to these national, state, and local resources.
>> New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline (24 hours a day /7 days a week):
1-800-942-6906 (English & español/Multi-language Accessibility) • Deaf or Hard of Hearing: 711 Help resources
>> NYC HOPE: NYC Family Justice Centers, offering services and support related to safety planning, shelter assistance, and other vital services • 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) or dial 311 • TDD: 1-800-810-7444