How the COVID-19 Crisis Has Affected Rates of Domestic Violence
Statistics have shown that domestic abuse calls and arrests in New Jersey dropped during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, this does not tell the whole story as the rate of abuse may not have actually decreased. Instead, factors related to the pandemic have made it more difficult for victims to reach out to seek help.
COVID-19 Keeps People Stuck Together in the Same Home With Stress
COVID-19 has forced many married couples indoors together for an extended period of time. Couples that have been experiencing marital or relationship strife now must co-exist in the same house without many outlets or places to go for some space.
In addition to the forced proximity, the effects of the pandemic have increased the stresses that many married couples are facing. One spouse may have lost employment, or the couple’s income could have been reduced. Money is one of the main reasons why couples have arguments. Financial troubles combined with proximity are a volatile mix. In relationships that are prone to domestic violence, the economic effects of COVID-19 could be a trigger for continued or even new aggression against a partner.
People Are Too Afraid of the Pandemic to Leave
Many people were struggling with the decision to leave their abusers before the crisis hit. Making that choice is already a difficult and momentous decision for one who is abused. It requires courage, even under normal circumstances. Now, the uncertainty of COVID-19 is another hurdle that one must overcome before getting out of the abusive relationship. Some may just not have the ability to end the relationship during the pandemic because it then means that they must go out into a world gripped by a pandemic, and they are afraid.
For people who are abused, stay-at-home orders can be scary since they will be literally stuck with their abusers. Given the closures, they may not have anywhere else to go to escape. Moreover, many abuse victims remain stuck in their situations because financial difficulties prevent them from having the means to get out of the relationship. Some are also dependent on their abuser financially and cannot support themselves on their own. Even if they want to file for divorce, they are hesitant to contact a divorce attorney because it is a financially perilous time.
Some couples have already decided to get divorced. However, due to COVID-19, they are forced to remain under the same roof. There are financial constraints that may require the two spouses to still live under the same roof while they are separated. One spouse may simply not be able to afford to move out and live on their own because of the difficult economic times. When the relationship between the two is hostile, there is a higher chance that one spouse will turn abusive. The situation will be worse because they’ll still be in close proximity to each other.
The Court System Is Slow and TRO’s May Be More Difficult to Get
Another element that is exacerbating the situation is that the domestic court system has been greatly slowed by the pandemic. While courts can still hear cases in which one spouse is seeking a temporary restraining order, it may take slightly longer to get a court date and a hearing. Temporary restraining orders in domestic abuse cases are considered to be an emergency hearing due to the potential consequences. Nevertheless, until court systems are completely reopened, there could still be some delays in the processing of these cases.
Even if the courthouse is open, victims may have some difficulty filling out the paperwork that they need to file for the temporary restraining order. Under normal circumstances, there is legal aid available for those who need help filing a TRO. However, it is more difficult now for people to make an appointment and get the help that they need to meet with an attorney. This delays motions for temporary restraining orders because people may not be able to file on their own. Then, their motion may end up behind other matters on the court’s docket. Furthermore, when the court has a video hearing for a TRO, the victim may not even have a reliable connection to testify before the judge.
Help Is More Difficult to Get
Beyond not being able to have access to legal help, abuse rates could increase during COVID-19 lockdowns because victims may not be able to reach out to help organizations during the pandemic. These agencies have tried to keep their staffing levels up to deal with domestic violence, but victims may not be as willing to reach out during the pandemic. When someone is stuck in a home with their abuser, they may not have the space to make the phone call to get the help they need.
In general, domestic violence victims have reported that it is more difficult to seek help during the COVID-19 crisis. Many advocates report greater barriers between the victims and the people who are there to help them. One of the primary means of help for abuse victims is a shelter, but many are afraid of group living during a pandemic.
Declining Abuse Calls Do Not Tell the Whole Story
This disturbing trend has been occurring right here in New Jersey as well as around the world. In New Jersey, initial reports were that the number of domestic abuse calls was declining during the pandemic. This was contrary to the numbers from the rest of the country and the world. Most places saw spikes in the number of domestic abuse complaints.
Therefore, it is difficult to say that a lower number of calls means that the actual rate of domestic violence in New Jersey has decreased. For the reasons listed above, people may be not calling law enforcement even though they are being abused. They may simply be too afraid to call when they do not have as much of an ability to escape while the pandemic is raging.
The frightening aspect of the fewer calls being made is that authorities are not able to make as many arrests. Victims’ rights advocates do not believe that domestic violence is decreasing. They just believe that fewer incidents are being reported. In other words, when law enforcement discusses the drop in domestic violence calls and arrests, it is not necessarily good news because fewer incidents are being brought out into the open.
Domestic Violence Abuse Calls Are More Intense
Even if call volumes are going down in New Jersey, the intensity of the domestic abuse calls is still very intense. Victims groups have reported that there has been an increase in life-threatening situations in New Jersey that has required immediate intervention.
Now that some quarantine restrictions are being lifted, the number of domestic violence calls in New Jersey is increasing. This could be because victims either have more privacy to make a phone call for help, or they may feel more confident that they have somewhere to go to escape the abuse.
Those who need immediate help should seek out an attorney. A divorce attorney at the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco in Hackensack, NJ, can help when someone wants to end a marriage. Call today at (201) 343-0078 to set up an initial consultation.