New resources are being put into place for abuse victims amid COVID-19.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, attorneys and courts are finding new ways to use technology to keep domestic violence (DV) victims safe. Social distancing continues and shelter-in-place mandates could mean DV victims being isolated with their abusers. And, the added stress of COVID-19 can mean a violent environment during this crisis. It can be an especially difficult time for abuse victims are unable to scheduling in-person court hearings or unable to stay at a shelter.
Teresa Sullivan, a supervisory attorney with Legal Aid Chicago, which represents domestic violence survivors, said, “One of the biggest challenges is how to provide remote services to clients at a time when their abusers may be using the virus as a justification for isolating them.” She added, “We anticipate there being escalations and violence and we are trying to make ourselves as available as possible while working remotely to our current clients. We also have an intake line still open, and we are exploring the possibility of setting up some remote services for people who are accessing the courthouses for the first time.”
Sullivan is pushing for court to use online programs such as videoconferencing to make it easier for victims and their attorneys to move forward with their cases so the victims can find closure. “I would hope that this would launch a kind of new era of representation in which we can do those kinds of brief check-ins over video conference, over email, over teleconference. That would then free up more of our time to do the other work that we need to do to serve our clients,” she said.
Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said the resource has adopted internet telephone services to reroute calls to employees working from home. “We moved our entire operation to remote status without a decrease in operations, which was a brilliant, logistical feat that our team pulled off,” Ray-Jones explained, adding, “This is an opportunity for [victims] to not look like they’re seeking help, but the information is just there for the general public. We’re also imploring friends, family, neighbors, colleagues to contact the hotline.”
Jonathan Verk, the founder and creator of the tech company Hyphenus, developed an app called CoParenter with retired California Judge Sherrill Ellsworth, a platform that can help divorced parents, including DV survivors, connect with their ex-partners in a safe and non-confrontational way. Verk plans to soon roll out an app called PeacefulContact exclusively for DV victims.
“In domestic violence cases where courts are ordering visitation between children and an abusive parent and contact between the co-parents is not prohibited by the court, apps and other technology may add a layer of distance and safety that was not available previously,” Ellsworth explained.
Melanie MacBride, a managing attorney with the Legal Aid Society in Chicago, said, “This crisis dramatically impacts [a victim’s] ability to get safe and stay safe. If you’ve got a bunch of kids who’ve been in school who potentially could be carriers of the virus, you’re not going to go stay at your mom’s house, because your mom is older and has preexisting health conditions, and you’re worried that the kids are going to give her something.”
The challenges advocates continue to face in attempting to care for this population during COVID-19 are interminable. But, as the crisis continues, more measures will continue to be put into place.