When Staying Home Isn’t Safe, Domestic Violence Advocates Provide Online Services To Protect Victims

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For most of last week, representatives from the Connecticut Judicial Branch and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) went back and forth, trying to figure out how to protect state residents who are at risk of domestic violence during the pandemic.

For some residents, the state’s current motto of “Stay Safe, Stay Home” is sadly ironic. Unemployment claims—though low compared to those of other states—are rising, schools are closed, and sales of firearms and ammunition are up. Early on, domestic violence advocates expressed concern that incidents of violence would increase the longer people are forced to spend time together in close quarters.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Branch began closing courthouses around the state to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and those closures made applying for restraining orders difficult.

On March 20, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order (No. 7H) that closed non-essential businesses and urged residents to stay home. That same day, Sen. Richard Blumenthal hosted a virtual roundtable with representatives from Connecticut’s domestic violence organizations.

As Blumenthal said, domestic violence is “every bit as dire for some families as the threat of coronavirus.”

iStock Photo.

A woman in an abusive situation can apply for a restraining order online.

On average, roughly 7,000 restraining orders are filed in the state every year, said Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of CCADV, an organization that includes 18 domestic violence service organizations around the state. On average, calls for help number roughly 33,000 a year. Within the last week, Hartford officials report a 20% increase in domestic violence calls, and the city has launched a police unit specific for domestic violence calls.

But how the state could best offer help under such restricted circumstances created no small amount of discussion.

On the one hand were issues of privacy and laws that dictate the steps a domestic violence victim must take to file for the protection offered by a restraining order. On the other hand, were issues of protecting families in an unprecedented time and thinking outside a fairly structured box.

Every day the discussion continued without a resolution, Jarmoc worried.

Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order (No. 7T) that, with input from the Judicial Branch, creates a way for people to apply for a restraining order entirely online. Now, advocates at the CCADV’s CT Safe Connect can fill out the application for the victim, and electronically file it. And then, when a judge issues a restraining order, a local advocate works to coordinate with a state marshal to serve the order. Safe Connect, which began last year, offers bilingual and multicultural services, all of which are confidential and free.

Nearly a month ago, advocates started planning for how to operate during the pandemic. Domestic violence shelters—which are more like residences than dormitory-type homeless shelters—were already at 130% capacity, said Jarmoc. Steps to distance residents included placing some residents in motels, which allowed families individual rooms. Advocates also redoubled their efforts to find long-term housing. Domestic violence counselors shifted to remote advocacy. As courthouses started closing, CCADV began offering transportation via Lindsey Limousine for victims who have transportation issues, and want to apply for a restraining order, Jarmoc said. (Given the court closures, people in Greenwich must travel to Waterbury, she said.)

“It’s really critical right now for all systems to be thinking creatively about how we help people,” said Jarmoc. “It’s been challenging, for sure, but we are laser-focused on developing safety plans, identifying risk assessments, providing rapid rehousing, and keeping victims safe.

“It’s working.”

If you need help with a restraining order, contact CT Safe Connect at www.CTSafeConnect.org, where you can connect via email or chat with an advocate 24 hours a day, seven days a week; or call (888) 774-2900.

Susan Campbell teaches at the University of New Haven.  She is the author of several books, including, most recently, “Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood.” She can be reached at slcampbell417@gmail.com.


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