A NY Times article from the height of the Covid-19 pandemic found that domestic violence rates around the globe were rising, spurred by Covid-19 lockdowns, economic distress, and victims driven even further into isolation.
Concerned about similar spikes in domestic abuse that may be happening here in New Jersey, family law expert Bari Weinberger, our firm’s founder, set out to uncover how factors such as home confinement and court closures have impacted statewide domestic violence rates.
Bari’s findings, published October 29 in the New Jersey Law Journal, provides a startling look at the difficulties victims have faced over the past several months. Using arrest data from the Newark Department of Public Safety and restraining data provided by the New Jersey Superior Court, Bari was able to make the following key discoveries:
- Statewide, domestic violence calls to police dropped right after lockdown began — and that was not a good thing. The sudden drop in domestic violence calls to police was a prime sign that unreported domestic violence was rising. Victims may have lacked privacy to call for help and/or did not know how to access help due to court closures, or had difficulty leaving home or understanding whether shelters were open. On March 31, Governor Phil Murphy tweeted that “stay at home measures did not apply to victims seeking help,” a visible clue that government officials were aware of underreporting.
- Comparing samples of arrest data for 2020 and 2018 from Newark revealed that domestic violence arrests were lower in early March 2020 than in early March 2018, again indicating underreporting. Arrests, however, began to increase in late March of 2020 and remained elevated (relative to 2018 data) through July of 2020. In its own analysis, the Newark Department of Public Safety reported 188 domestic violence incidents in the city from March 21 through April 7, an 18% increase over the same period in 2019.
- Data produced by the New Jersey Superior Court breaking down statewide applications for temporary restraining orders (TROs) showed relatively low numbers of requests in March and April, with most TROs issued by the police and very few issued by the courts. Courts were closed to virtually all in person hearings at this time and victims may not have known where to go, or were reluctant or unable to go to the their local police station. As courts reopened, numbers of TRO requests rapidly increased. From late July to mid-September, total TRO requests rose sharply compared to pre-March levels.
As Bari and her co-author Dan Pollack pointed out, greater underreporting of domestic violence early in the pandemic, and then a great surge in temporary restraining orders later on after the courts reopened, is an alarming wake up call.
As they noted in the article:
“Universal characteristics of abuse include forced isolation from family and friends, surveillance, dictating acceptable behavior, and restricting access to necessities like food and clothing. Confinement to home during the pandemic created conditions that facilitated such behaviors. Surveillance and control are easier in close quarters. For many, isolation became the norm, with access to support networks cut off or reduced.”
The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over and as winter approaches and cases rise, we face a new time of uncertainty and the possibility of renewed lockdown measures.
Before this happens, Bari urges that steps need to be taken to reach out and educate victims about all available help, especially when it comes to how to get a restraining order when courts are closed to in-person assistance. Shelters and agencies are open, even if procedures are now slightly different to accommodate social distancing.
Do you or a loved one or coworker need help with domestic violence but aren’t sure how to access help? We’ve created a shareable resource article for how to get help and access resources during the pandemic
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