By: Lester Hankenberg
Data has revealed that New York’s coronavirus shutdown set the stage for increased exploitation. Families were forced to stay home together continually, and sadly, this led to an exponential rise in domestic violence throughout the five boroughs. When the outbreak first hit, experts expected that the mandatory lockdowns and bolstering unemployment would lead to an increase in household abuse. As reported by the NY Post, now, the data is available to prove they were right. Some agencies are revealing that reports of domestic-violence doubled or even tripled over the last several months. “We’ve never been busier,’’ said Nechama Bakst, senior director of the Met Council’s family-violence program. “We have seen people who never experienced violence starting to experience violence, and people who have experienced violence experience worse violence.’’
In an average month, the non-profit usually sees roughly 70 new cases. In April, however, the program struggled to help 135 new cases. Again in May, there were 145 more cases, and then146 more in June, as per the organization. “We see more choking, more sexual violence, kind of much more intense and serious acts of crime,’’ the director lamented to The Post.
Sanctuary for Families, another organization which works with survivors, similarly reported a jump in calls to its helpline. The group, which has its headquarters in Manhattan and operates five shelters throughout the five boroughs, said that it received 206 calls in May, compared to 102 last year in the same time frame. In June, their calls more than tripled, with 259 calls compared to 73 in June of 2019.
“Domestic violence is fundamentally about power and control,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, director of SFF’s Legal Center. “The coronavirus pandemic gave abusers a powerful tool of control because their victims were in much closer proximity to them, 24/7 in many cases, and had less access to sources of support and assistance.’’
Some abusers would withhold personal protective equipment from their victims, to keep them from leaving the home at all, advocates said. In other cases, if an abuser ended up infected with the coronavirus, they would blame their partner and become physically violent. Some would also refuse to follow safety protocols such as social distancing and washing hands, and would “taunt” their victims making them “feel unsafe,” Bakst said. Coronavirus also made the hardest part of an abusive relationship harder—fleeing. Victims did not have a break where they felt they weren’t being watched, increasing their feeling of entrapment.
The lockdown also made it harder for victims to even place a call for help, for fear that their perpetrator would hear them. Many of the calls were made late at night while the abusers slept, with the victims whispering from inside their bathrooms, which was as far as they could get, said David Greenfield, CEO of the Met Council. To combat this problem, both the Met Council and the SFF created a text-based helpline for victims, offering a safer way to cry out for help.