Reported domestic violence down, DA says, but reason could be fear during confinement
Domestic violence statistics have trended downward during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NYPD statistics. However, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said that his office feels that the issue has actually grown worse under quarantine.
While speaking on a panel hosted by John Jay College, Gonzalez explained some of the reasons why the numbers have dropped, even as complaints have eased up, and he urged Brooklynites to call 911 or even his office to report issues.
Gonzalez was joined by panelists Jennifer DeCarli, an assistant commissioner for the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence; Dorchen Leisholdt, director of the Sanctuary for Families; Lucy Lang, director for the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution; and Jane Doe, a domestic violence survivor, on Tuesday, May 5 to discuss ways to protect victims and to bring greater attention to a growing crisis.
“The arrests, in terms of reported cases regarding gender-based violence, is down significantly in the city. It’s down in Brooklyn, which is concerning to all of us because we know that this is a particularly difficult time for families who are locked in an apartment or house together,” Gonzalez said. “We understand and we hear from people that in fact incidents of domestic violence are increasing, but the reported number is going down, we’re down significantly in Brooklyn in terms of reported cases.”
Gonzalez said that the biggest reason why people may be reluctant to report domestic violence is because they simply cannot get away from the perpetrator. He also pointed out that at one point approximately 20 percent of the NYPD were out sick.
“Domestic violence is about a third of the cases we arraign in the county, so we know that there is a significant issue, but as people are sheltered in place, we also understand that their access to report this is limited,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t have the same interactions that they normally have, and often the abuser is not leaving the house at all so they’re really trapped.”
The other issue at play is that local jails and prisons are hotbeds for COVID-19 spread, so judges and prosecutors have both been reluctant to send people there unless they feel it absolutely necessary. Family members have been reluctant to press charges in some cases for the same reasons.
“We’ve done a lot to make sure that those released from Rikers … have been done responsibly,” Gonzalez said. “Quite frankly, it’s been my position that these are cases that are not safe for mass releases. Whenever we even consider one of those cases we reach out to the survivor of those cases to get their feedback.”
The good news is that Gonzalez’s office is ready to start prosecuting cases virtually and its social workers have been busy connecting people to needed resources.
“Our social workers have been tremendous in Brooklyn in getting services virtually to survivors of crime,” he said. “We want to make sure that everything done in this office is focused on public safety and fairness. In terms of domestic violence, we’ve really engaged our victims and survivors of these gender-based crimes in a significant way with our social workers.”
Elder abuse is another issue Gonzalez said his office has focused on recently. Since the pandemic hit, he said that the elderly have increasingly become targets of COVID-19-related scams and even, in some instances, children or family members have been abusive.
“Many of the abusers are now extorting and demanding money from the elders,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in terms of children and grandchildren being in increasingly controlling positions of their elders … Our social workers have been doing things like changing locks, but also ensuring that basic needs are met like food being delivered.”
Gonzalez reminded people who tuned into the panel that his office is considered an essential workplace and to call if there is a problem. He also encouraged New Yorkers to check up on each other, particularly the elderly, if they think there is a reason they may need help.
“We make sure that offenders are held accountable, but also we want to make sure that people are safe and treated with dignity,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to call us simply because you don’t want to see your abuser go to jail. There are other services than just putting people in jail.”
For a list of resources available, go online to www.prosecution.org/resources-for-domestic-violence-during-covid19.
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