Domestic Violence Has Accompanied Us Into the New Year, And We Must Be Resolved to Combat It

By Joette Katz; Connecticut Law Tribune; January 6, 2022
 

It’s safe to say that many of us today are consumed with COVID—how not to get sick, how to get people vaccinated, how to keep kids safely in school, how to reopen businesses and how to recognize and treat mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

What I have not heard spoken about in any meaningful way is domestic violence. In fact, the very steps that we have taken to prevent the spread of the virus—quarantines, stay-at-home orders, school closures, economic shutdowns and working remotely—have often created new occasions for abuse. Months of unpaid rent, mounting bills, increased consumption of alcohol, sickness and isolation have not only caused instances of abuse to escalate, but these same factors have contributed to the feeling of helplessness that many victims experience. In much of the world, shelters and legal services are limited or nonexistent. If they do exist, they are likely to be overstretched and under-resourced. In some parts of the world, the United Nations is calling this a “shadow pandemic.”

 

While men and boys suffer, women and girls are more often the victims, and LGBTQ and nonbinary people are at a heightened risk. Women in marginalized groups, such as refugees, are even more likely to feel helpless.

In the past, the number of domestic violence incidents in the United States was determined largely from police reports. More recent reliance on police call logs, domestic violence crime reports, emergency hotline registries, health records reports, court cases, calls to hotlines, occupancy in shelters and opinion surveys provide a more accurate picture. Last year, according to analysis released by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ), every form of data relied upon showed overwhelming evidence of an increase in domestic violence after stay-at-home orders were issued. But because domestic violence often goes underreported due to fear, the sensitivity of the topic, and the shame that victims carry, the figures are considered underestimates, and the pandemic has made getting accurate data a challenge. Lockdowns have also trapped more survivors with their abusers, making it more difficult to report incidents or have others intervene, further contributing to this shadow pandemic.

 

Many of the instances of domestic violence occur in the presence of children. Quite often those outside of the family don’t know what is going on, and it is often difficult to know how best to intervene. And unfortunately, the reality is that in many cases, meaningful intervention occurs only after a child has endured direct and continued exposure to violence.

The effects on children who have witnessed domestic violence experience are far-reaching: insomnia, bed-wetting, verbal, motor and cognitive issues, depression, learning difficulties and aggressive, antisocial and self-harming behaviors. As if that were not enough, studies have found evidence of much higher rates of pro-violence attitudes, rigid stereotypical gender beliefs involving male privilege, bullying, animal abuse, assault and property destruction.

An adverse childhood experiences study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified exposure to domestic violence as one of several adverse childhood experiences contributing to poor quality of life, premature death and risk factors for many of the most common causes of death in the United States. Obviously, children who experience physical and sexual abuse themselves are at the greatest risk for emotional and psychological problems. And while children develop coping strategies and other protective factors that may mitigate the worst impacts, I think we can all agree that it would be better to not have to rely on them.

There were early warning signs of this shadow pandemic, and those who were aware of the issue were asking for help. Initially, coronavirus relief packages offered programs targeting women, but very few of them covered domestic violence. Eventually, as many shifted to remote work, new measures were adopted to support victims of domestic violence. They included online services, the establishment of alert systems for reporting domestic violence at food stores and pharmacies, the provision of hotel accommodation where shelters are full, telemedicine for reproductive health care at home, economic support for domestic workers and low-income earners who have stopped working, extended paid leave for parents of children with disabilities, free childcare and temporary housing for poor women, “e-justice” services and psychological and legal counseling.

The pandemic was also an impetus for the police in some areas to try harder to reach women. Even in a time when there has been pressure to defund the police, some departments ramped up responses to hotline calls and WhatsApp and Facebook messages, platforms they previously had not prioritized.

But as the virus keeps resurging, so do the problems. Training new hires via Zoom has not been easy. Many courts are either closed or operating at reduced hours, and while many are adapting by switching to the use of new online technology to hear cases remotely, submitting necessary paperwork online has proved challenging, especially for those women with low socioeconomic status. Access to technology is often limited, and the opportunity for victims to safely make a phone call or use any other form of digital communication to report violence and seek help is particularly compromised if they share residence with a perpetrator. It’s too soon to know whether protection orders have been easily accessible and adequately adapted to the COVID-19 context including access to e-protection orders and e-emergency orders online and ex parte that could order a perpetrator to vacate the residence or prohibit the perpetrator from entering the residence or contacting the victim.

The Violence against Women Act, a landmark piece of legislation first made law in 1994, has been reauthorized a few times, most recently in 2013, but it expired in 2018, and while funding has been continued, provisions added at the instigation of advocates and survivors at each iteration have not been addressed. They are waiting in the wings to add provisions that would include greater access to emergency housing, addressing the ability of perpetrators to purchase firearms and providing services based on differing cultural norms and resources.

Media outlets have been helpful in raising public awareness about domestic violence in the context of COVID-19 and the importance of support for victims as a part of the national COVID-19 response. But regardless, as long as domestic violence remains the leading cause of physical injury to women—more than car accidents and muggings combined—much more attention is still needed. Domestic abuse should be understood as a cause and consequence of inequality, and abuse remains a choice by the abuser and cannot be excused by external factors, no matter what those circumstances may be.

We should acknowledge that victims continue to feel shame, not unlike many victims of sexual assault, as though somehow they contributed to their situation or encouraged it. As a society, we have an opportunity and responsibility to inject resiliency through academic, emotional and social support. We must all grapple with whether there are ways we might more effectively intervene within our families, schools, and communities to initiate help and healing. The numbers reported are underestimates and the increase we see is very likely the floor, not the ceiling.

So as we come back from our holiday celebrations, a little fatter and ever grateful for everything we enjoy, whether we do go back to stay-at-home orders or continue our recovery, let each of us think not just about how the pandemic has impacted home schooling, billable hours, remote jury trials and depositions. Domestic violence is pernicious and insidious; it cuts across all demographics; it has negative long term consequences for the children who witness it and devastating effects on those who experience it directly. It’s not too late to make addressing this shadow pandemic part of everyone’s New Year’s resolution.

Joette Katz is a partner at Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, where she focuses her practice on business litigation. She is a former Connecticut Supreme Court justice and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. She currently co-chairs the Connecticut Law Tribune Editorial Board.

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Barnes Memorial Trust Awards Grants In Southington

By Chris Dehnel; Patch Southington; December 20, 2021
 

SOUTHINGTON, CT — The Main Street Community Foundation recently awarded a total of $474,258 in grants from the Bradley Henry Barnes & Leila Upson Barnes Memorial Trust to 13 nonprofit organizations “working to support the health and well-being of Southington residents.”

The grants awarded are:

  • The Arc of Southington – $5,900 – Repair and rebuild the handicap accessible ramp and landing at the entrance to the main office building
  • Bread For Life – $78,000 – Meal program for Southington’s food-insecure population, including support for rising food-related costs
  • Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington – $27,500 – Health, safety and well-being educational programs for young children and their caregivers.
  • Friends of Southington Community Services – $30,000 – Food, fuel assistance and other basic needs for low-income residents
  • LiveWell Alliance, Inc. – $55,000 – “Empowering Partnership Network” as well as the development of programs for people living with dementia through the Center for Resilient Living
  • Prudence Crandall Center Inc. – $45,000 – COVID-19 recovery relief and services for Southington victims of domestic violence and their children
  • Southington-Cheshire Community YMCAs – $100,000 – COVID-19 recovery relief support of programs and operations
  • Southington-Cheshire Community YMCAs – $31,434 – Community collaboration with the YMCA, Southington Public Schools and Southington Police Department to purchase and install “Stop the Bleed” kits in public locations
  • Southington Community Cultural Arts – $50,000 –All Access program for adults with disabilities and those living with dementia
  • Southington Education Foundation – $15,000 – Materials, supplies and licenses to enhance the “RULER” initiative for social/emotional learning in the Southington public schools
  • Southington Manna Fund, Inc. – $5,000 – Emergency housing for temporarily displaced Southington residents
  • United Way of Southington – $28,424 –Senior Transportation Services program, which offers free rides to Southington seniors to medical appointments, pharmacy, banks and care facilities

An additional $3,000 was provided to long-term care facilities – LiveWell Alliance and Southington Care Center – for patient assistance funds for financially disadvantaged residents.

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Connecticut police see an increase in domestic violencecalls during coronavirus stay-at-home orders

By Jesse Leavenworth; Hartford Courant; April 14, 2020
 
As much of Connecticut remains homebound due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence calls to police
have risen across the state.
 
The increase has not been steep, but victims’ advocates say isolation favors abusers and the situation could
worsen.
 
“When there is a confined space, it can be controlled by an abuser, and you add to that the various stresses that we
are all experiencing — all of that isolation and all of that stress leads to an increase in abusive behavior,” said
Mary-Jane Foster, president and CEO of Interval House in Hartford.
 
Domestic violence is about power and control, experts say, and, a key tactic of abusers is to cut victims’ contacts
with family and friends.
 
“Here’s a situation,” Barbara Damon, executive director of the Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain, said,
“where we’re all isolated from family and friends, so it’s just a toxic mix.”
 
Hartford police reported that family violence calls increased from 435 calls in March 2019 to 509 in March of this
year. City leaders recently announced that a four-member team of officers will be dedicated to investigating
domestic violence complaints.
 
Such calls concern any possible violence or threats by one member of a household against another or between
intimate partners who don’t live together, reports of protective order violations, child abuse and violence between
roommates. City officials said there probably are more victims who have not called police.
 
The state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has been gathering data from state and
municipal police, including the large cities, and has found a slight rise in domestic calls for service, agency
spokesman Brian Foley said.
 
For communities covered by state troopers, figures for the month of March over four years show domestic calls in
March 2017 totaled 97, rising to 120 in 2018, falling to 94 in March 2019 and up again to 105 this past month.
In another comparison, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence surveyed police departments across
the state and found an 8% increase in calls during the first quarter of this year compared with the first three
months of 2019.
 
The coalition of 18 agencies across the state also has found that contacts to Safe Connect, Connecticut’s domestic
violence resource hub, increased from 1,060 contacts in January to 1,284 in February and 1,314 contacts in
March.
 
Seven percent of those who contacted Safe Connect over the past two weeks expressed concerns related
specifically to COVID-19. The 18 domestic violence organizations reported increased needs for basics such as
toiletries and clothing, behavioral health services, food, needs specific to children, such as distance learning, and
housing needs, especially from clients who fear they could lose their homes because they are unemployed.
 
“We know that this period of social distancing presents increased opportunities for domestic violence,” CCADV
leader Karen Jarmoc said. “While we are not necessarily viewing a significant increase in requests for help across
various systems, we can see that COVID-19 is having an impact on the ability of victims to access basic needs,
which can certainly exacerbate an already abusive relationship. Advocates across the state are being creative and
flexible in helping victims access these critical needs.”
 
Experts say domestic violence centers on control. Because abusers may feel they have lost some control — of
employment and finances, in particular — they may seek to increase control in their relationships.
 
“While necessary during a public health crisis, stay-at-home orders make it even more difficult for victims to seek
support,” said Debra A. Greenwood, president & CEO of The Center for Family Justice, which serves Bridgeport,
Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.
 
“Social connectedness is critical for victims and survivors at a time like this,” Kai Belton, clinical director of Safe
Connect, said. “We encourage everyone to stay in touch with their friends and family, particularly if you already
suspect someone may be in an abusive relationship. Let them know that help is available 24/7 whenever they are
ready.”
 
“For folks who are experiencing isolation in homes with an abuser, it’s a potentially very dangerous time,” Damon
said. “I see the need for them to reach out and for neighbors and friends to reach out to them — you just don’t
know who needs a lifeline.”
 
Across the nation, calls to police and domestic violence hotlines have increased in many cities and towns,
according to news reports. USA Today reporters analyzed data from 53 law enforcement agencies around the
country and found calls for domestic disturbances and violence surged by 10% to 30% among many police
agencies that contributed data, the newspaper reported.
 
NBC News reported that of 22 law enforcement agencies that responded to a request for data on domestic violence
calls, 18 departments said they had seen a rise in March. Houston police, for example, received about 300 more
domestic violence calls in March than they did in February, a roughly 20% increase, NBC reported.
 
In China and Europe, domestic violence during the pandemic also has become a major concern. In Spain, the New
York Times reported, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18% more calls in the first two weeks
of lockdown than in the same period a month earlier.
 
Pope Francis on Monday called for prayers for victims of domestic violence, who are mostly women.
 
“Sometimes they (women) risk being victims of violence in a cohabitation that they bear like a weight that is far too heavy,” the pontiff said. “Let us pray for them, so the Lord grants them strength and that our communities support them along with their
families.”
 
Domestic violence services are accessible through CT Safe Connect at all hours. Call, chat and email at www.CTSafeConnect.org, or (888) 774-2900 ( texting is temporarily unavailable). CCADV says advocates can provide counseling, safety planning, risk assessment, assistance with a restraining order application, and a safe connection to a domestic violence organization for ongoing support and services. Bilingual services are available. All services are confidential, safe, free and voluntary.
 
Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com.
 

 
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