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Spike in Domestic Violence Incidents as Coronavirus Pervades New Jersey

Published: April 10, 2020

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Domestic violence in Coronavirus NJ lawyer helpFor most, staying at home for long periods of time is inconvenient and annoying but overall, tolerable. For others, it may even be a welcome vacation from the stresses of work and other daily aspects of life. However, for a minority of people, the closed quarters of a person’s home may pose a dangerous environment. Domestic violence survivors who are forced to remain home and in close spaces with their abusers, especially under these taxing circumstances, are more likely to suffer abuse and continued violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline emphasizes that domestic violence is about power and control. As such, when survivors are forced to remain home or in close proximity to their assailant, the abuser can utilize any tool to exert control, including a global pandemic such as COVID-19.

For instance, an abuser may withhold items such as hand sanitizer or disinfectant. The abuser may share misinformation about the pandemic. He or she may withhold insurance cards, cancel coverage, or even prevent the survivor from seeking medical care. To add to the alarming circumstances, survivors tend to feel helpless given the uncertainty in the outside world and as such, often acquiesce to the controlling behavior. With travel being restricted, many counseling centers closed, hospitals overflowing with patients, courts being closed, and police departments engulfed, many survivors are too frightened to act. Additionally, for those same reasons that survivors feel paralyzed, abusers may feel more validated to escalate their abuse.

Recognizing this disturbing problem, news organizations and leaders in the community have increased their discussion of domestic violence survivors in relation to stay at home orders in New Jersey and across the United States. As citizens quarantine themselves to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many experts and law enforcement authorities are convinced that there will be more domestic violence occurrences. And the trend has already begun in New Jersey. For instance, the Hoboken police reported that they are receiving five calls per day, when normally they receive two or three. The Department of Children and Families indicated that it is common for there to be a significant increase in cases following a natural disaster.

In addition to the enclosed and frightening living situation many survivors face, they are also confronted with many insecurities if they decide to leave. The director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at Rutgers University Law School provided that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the majority of communities where survivors live now have limited resources. Courts are closed and police departments are overwhelmed. Consequently, it’s uncertain where people can acquire help.

The same plight is also occurring across the Hudson in nearby New York. In fact, the uptick in domestic violence has occurred across the world. Survivors who are essentially trapped in their homes and apartments are likely to experience an increase in abuse. The article emphasized to its readers the escalating nature of domestic violence. It typically begins with verbal arguments, then criticism, then threats, and eventually turns into physical violence, and sometimes, even sexual assault.

And experts emphasize the importance of looking beyond the numbers. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has actually not received an increase in reported cases and moreover, New York City’s reported cases have been down. Nevertheless, experts claim that this is because it’s very difficult for survivors to call for help when they are stuck at home with their abuser. Thus, it is not unusual for the numbers of reported cases to decrease during a disaster such as this one. The survivor is never alone and therefore, cannot reach out for help.

Recognizing this perilous situation that many survivors face, New Jersey State Senator Declan O’Scanlon introduced a bill that will impose harsher penalties for acts of domestic violence during a state of emergency. If the bill becomes law, hopefully it will deter offenders from future acts. Also, our State Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, offered resources for anyone experiencing domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence also posted on its website a document titled Increasing Survivor Safety During Covid-19, which is full of resources that may help survivors. Collectively, the articles and resources emphasize to survivors to create a plan. Reach out to relatives and friends. Contact shelters or counseling centers. Be prepared so if an incident occurs, you are ready and able to quickly leave.

With that in mind, if you or someone you know is experiencing threats or violence at home, it is important to take action. Police departments may be inundated but they are not closed. Similarly, our courts are not holding trials and hearings but there are still emergent judges on duty who can review domestic violence matters and if needed, issue restraining orders. Again, if you feel you need protection, do not hesitate to take action.

To acquire a restraining order, you can contact your local police department, who in turn, can immediately call a judge over the phone to issue an order of protection. From there, the police will serve the order and remove the perpetrator from your home. In New Jersey, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act prohibits “in-home” protective orders. Meaning, the person who sought the restraining order cannot remain in the same home as the alleged perpetrator under any conditions, even a global pandemic. The protective order will remain in place until our courts can hold hearings again. Also, domestic violence is not limited to physical acts of violence. Do not be dissuaded by the name. As correctly stated by the Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence is centered on power and control. Consequently, the Act provides protection against non-violent acts such harassment, cyber harassment, destruction of property, stalking, or burglary.

The restraining order process occurs in two phases. The first phase is the issuing of a temporary restraining order. The temporary restraining order is exactly what it sounds like, temporary. Meaning, the order is a temporary protective measure and is only intended to remain in place until the court holds a hearing and decides whether a permanent order should be entered. To obtain the temporary restraining order, you can call or visit your local police department and explain to the officers what occurred. Additionally, it is also important to report any past acts of domestic violence. After speaking with the police, the officers will contact a municipal court judge, who will review your complaint and if warranted, will issue a temporary order of protection.

Following the issuance of the temporary restraining order, the case moves to the second phase. At this point, the alleged abuser will be served with a copy of the order and the case will be scheduled for a hearing at the Superior Court, Family Division. At the hearing, the Court will examine any relevant evidence and hear from both sides regarding the merits of the case. In order to issue a final or permanent restraining order, the Judge must find that an underlying act of domestic violence occurred and an order of protection is needed to protect the individual from further acts of abuse. If the Court finds that both elements have been proven, the Court will issue a final restraining order.

If you have questions about a domestic violence case or restraining order in New Jersey, our highly experienced NJ domestic violence attorneys can help. Simply call 908-336-5008 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our lawyers assist clients in domestic violence cases throughout the state and if you are in need of answers, we are here to assist you.

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Travis J. Tormey is a distinguished member of the legal community and a respected legal resource on domestic violence. He has been featured in a variety of prominent publications and media outlets, including CBS radio, Aol News, the Asbury Park Press, NJ.com, and the Daily Record. Mr. Tormey has also been recognized as one of the the top criminal attorneys under 40 years of age by the National Trial Lawyers Association and the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Whether representing victims or the wrongly accused, Travis remains passionately committed to protecting the rights of the innocent.

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