Coronavirus News: Domestic violence up during pandemic, as WomanKind aims to help victims

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Domestic violence is on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, as victims are often quarantined with their abusers and can't get away.

Some advocates are using technology to connect with survivors and get them to safety, despite the lockdown, because calling for aid while sheltering in place with your abuser is out of the question.

Recently, a survivor managed to quietly text for help.

"It's difficult I think for a lot of survivors," said Alena Victor, a licensed clinical social worker with WomanKind, formerly the New York Asian Women's Center. "They don't have breathing room and and they're constantly exposed to violence on a daily basis, and it's overwhelming I applaud the courage and tenacity figuring out ways to access help."

The chat and text options (929-207-5907/929-207-5901) was added to the non-profit WomanKind's 24-hour multilingual abuse helpline (888-888-7702) two years ago, while staffers were still able to see clients in person.

But now that teams are working remotely, the text features become a lifeline as explained Friday during a City Council public hearing over Zoom to address domestic violence issues. The city's 911 feature currently has no texting option.

"I am concerned about domestic violence being under-reported," Public Safety Chair Donovan Richards, of Queens, said during the hearing. "I want to make sure victims can reach for help. What's going on with text to 911?"

NYPD Domestic Violence Unit Deputy Chief Kathleen White responded.

"Text to 911 is with another department that's an outside agency, the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications," she said. "We have been working with them, and they said that's ready in June and they can't get it ready any sooner than that."

What's of concern is victim safety. The NYPD reported domestic violence arrests are way down.

In the month before quarantine, there were 3,822 arrests. Between March 29 and April 26, there were 2,157.

That's an arrest drop of 43%,

Manhattan Council member and Chair of the Women and Gender Equity Committee Helen Rosenthal expressed concern.

"Victims and survivors are not able to call for help in the ways they did before," she said. "This is all the more chilling because we know that domestic violence during a crisis is more severe and more likely to result in death."

If the lockdown continues another two months, a recent study from the UN projects 15 million new intimate partner abuse cases worldwide. And that is why advocates say it's so important for community-based charities like WomanKind to have the resources to continue their work for survivors finding a way to reach out.

The client recently placed in of the non-profits three family residences was able to text WomanKind's 24-hour helpline feature, according to Victor.

"She was on text with us and said go ahead and call 911 on my behalf," she said. "And we did that, and the NYPD responded to the scene."

May 5 is #GivingTuesdayNow, a day of global giving in response to the pandemic. Please check Charity Navigator to make sure your donations are going to worthy causes.

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