With families staying at home during an uncertain and stressful time, the number of cases involving domestic violence has gone up on a national, statewide and local scale.
In recent weeks, there has been a 25 percent increase in domestic violence survivors calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline citing the coronavirus lockdown as “a condition of their experience.”
And as for the areas around Huntington, Colleen Merlo, executive director of Long Island Against Domestic Violence, said that their 24-hour hotline has seen a spike in residents looking for help during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Since mid-March when things were starting, we helped 31 individuals with domestic violence issues in the Huntington Township,” she said.
Russell I. Marnell of Marnell Law Group, P.C. in Melville, said that his firm has also seen an increase in legal counsel asking for advice to build a case against an abuser.
“We have received several inquiries about orders of protection, threats of spousal violence and parenting issues during the COVID-19 crisis,” Marnell said. “The initial inquiry is whether or not there has been a family offense, such as harassment, assault, menacing, etc., which is required to obtain an order of protection, then whether it would be appropriate to seek a stay away directive as part of the order.”
Suffolk County police have responded to 3,349 incidents of domestic violence from March 1 to April 16. Last year, they responded to 3,237 incidents during the same six-week period.
“As couples become isolated from the outside world, the abuse becomes more frequent,” Marnell said. “There are also external factors that contribute to the abuse like layoffs, loss of business, loss of income and the financial strain that comes with it.”
If an argument occurred prior to the stay at home orders, a spouse or partner could go out and do something to blow off some steam. “Couples are in close proximity to each other now, whereas before the pandemic, they might have been able to clam down or do things to relieve stress before coming home,” Marnell added.
While much legal work is deemed non-essential, family court is still open for dire situations. “You can still get an order of protection,” he said. “Attorneys are available for help.”
He recommends documenting as much possible if a situation is bad.
“There is relief. Victims should document any abuse if they can with photographs, video,” he said. “In New York State, you’re allowed to tape record a conversation as long as one person in the party knows they are recording. If you’re spouse is screaming at you, you can record it.”
He also suggests keeping a diary or log with facts about what took place or an order of events that will help build a case. “If you are in an abusive situation and you are seeking protection, contact a divorce or family law attorney immediately,” Marnell said.
But not all victims can openly record or document what’s going on at home.
Merlo advises to continue communicating with friends and family if they are in a situation where they need help. If they cannot talk freely, because of the stay at home orders, she recommends creating a code word or phrase that means they’re in danger.
“There are a lot of people who cannot reach out for help,” Merlo added. “Abusers are using the pandemic to maintain power and control. We want to counteract those comments… if a survivor needs to call 911, the police will still come.”
If you or someone you know is in a situation with domestic violence, they can call the LIADV hotline at 631-666-8833. For legal counsel with Marnell Law, contact 516-542-9000.
Photo courtesy of LIADV