Domestic Violence During Coronavirus
May 4, 2020
BY: Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O'Cathain & O'Cathain
Domestic Violence During Coronavirus
Ever since Governor Murphy ordered us to “stay at home” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of domestic violence during coronavirus have significantly decreased. However, that does not mean that incidences of domestic violence have decreased at all; according to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, this is only indicative of a decrease in victims reporting abuse, not that there are fewer instances of domestic abuse.
Although social distancing and isolating families in their homes are helping to flatten the coronavirus curve, it is also increasing the likelihood that abusers will take their stress and anxiety out on their victims. In fact, studies have shown that in high-stress situations such as this, similar to that of times after significant natural disaster, incidents of domestic violence are not only more frequent but tend to be even more severe.
It is a difficult decision to call for help when in an abusive relationship. Compounding that is the fear that their accounts of the abuse they have experienced will not be believed or that actions to protect them will not be taken. Especially now when it can be nearly impossible to find the privacy to call the police, a domestic violence hotline or an attorney, feelings of loneliness and hopelessness are seemingly unavoidable.
Victims may feel stuck in a no-win situation: Stay locked up at home with your abuser, or leave and expose yourself (and perhaps your children) to the virus. On top of that, due to the closure of many Courts, victims have one less resource at their disposal to obtain temporary restraining orders to remove their abusers from their shared home.
If you can manage to get away, go to a local police department and try to obtain a temporary restraining order. Do not attempt to go to the Superior (County) Court as they have extremely limited staff at this time, and most are working remotely. If you are granted a temporary restraining order, your abuser will be ordered to leave your home until a hearing is conducted to decide whether the temporary order will become permanent (a final restraining order). Although these hearings were usually scheduled between one to two weeks after service upon the defendant, the COVID-19 restrictions have delayed many of these hearings. This should not worry you, though, as the temporary restraining order will not automatically dissolve, and will remain in place until the conclusion of the hearing. Remember, if you are unable to obtain a temporary restraining order, your abuser will not know that you tried. You will receive a copy, but it will not be served on the other person but rather forwarded to the domestic violence unit at the County Courthouse.
If you are finding it difficult to leave your residence to go to the police or to find a private place to contact other supports, call a trusted friend or family member who will not arouse suspicion by your abuser. You may try to have that person conference in a domestic violence hotline so that the call does not appear on your records. Or, perhaps, utilize the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s internet chat or texting features. Most resources are still operating 24/7, although they may be functioning more remotely than usual. You can find a comprehensive list of resources here.
If you are not ready to contact outside help yet, you should still take the appropriate precautions to make sure you and your children are safe. Create a “safety plan,” or a practical and actionable plan to stay safe when you are stuck at home with your abuser. For example, if you have a vehicle, keep a spare key somewhere extremely accessible (or even on your person) at all times so that you can make a quick escape if necessary. Also, always keep your cell phone charged and close by in case you need to grab it and retreat to safety. In your phone book, save important resource numbers under other contact names. Create a safe space where you can run to if the abuse escalates – this can be as simple as inside of a closet where you can jam the door shut and call the police. Map out multiple escape routes from your home (and practice them regularly). If possible, also keep and hide a simple bag with your essentials that you can quickly grab in case you cannot return home.
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