Domestic violence incidents on the increase
Many things in the world have changed recently due to COVID-19: we are now sheltering in place, engaging in self-isolation, and practicing social distancing, in order to comply with public health mandates. One thing remains the same: domestic violence is still occurring and the victims of family violence still need help, now more than ever.
In Delaware, over the past five years there have been on average 22,803 incidents of domestic violence each year. (DVCC 2019 Annual Report: https://dvcc.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/87/2019/10/FINAL_DVCC_-FY2019_Annual_Report.pdf) This average could rise during the pandemic, as being quarantined with an abusive partner poses even greater risks. An abuser may take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain more control over a victim. Perpetrators of domestic violence commonly isolate victims by cutting off their relationships with coworkers, friends, or family; sheltering in place exacerbates this isolation. Victims ordinarily wait to be alone - for example waiting for their abuser to go to work - before reaching out to services or friends; now, due to social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, victims may feel unable to seek assistance by phone, because the perpetrator is at home with them.
While some of the ways victims access resources during the pandemic have changed, we encourage victims to call 911 if they are in immediate danger, and to seek out shelters, hotlines, and protective orders. Despite COVID-19, there are still safe places for victims to go. Delaware’s law enforcement officers are still responding to 911 calls. Delaware’s domestic violence shelters remain open in all three counties and continue to accept and house victims fleeing domestic violence. The domestic violence hotlines, available 24/7 in English and in Spanish, are still operational and are taking calls to listen to victims and offer support and resources, including referrals to a domestic violence shelter. The Family Court remains open statewide in order to accept and process civil Protection From Abuse cases; PFA petitions are now filed via email at FC_COVID19@delaware.gov or via paper petitions filed at the drop boxes in each Courthouse, and hearings are conducted by phone or video conference. Information about PFA orders can be found on the Family Court website at https://courts.delaware.gov/family/. The state’s domestic violence service providers - Child Inc.’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Program (DVAP), Delaware Volunteer Legal Services, and Community Legal Aid Society Inc. remain open and available by phone and email. DVAP is available by phone statewide to provide information and to assist victims with drafting and filing their petitions for a PFA Order. DVLS and CLASI remain available to provide legal advice and representation to victims on their PFA matters before the Family Court.
Domestic violence has not stopped during the pandemic, and victimized Delawareans still need help. Please know that if you are being abused, you are not alone, and there are still agencies and services available to offer you assistance and representation. If you know someone who is being abused, please share this information with them, so they know that there are still resources and services available to help them during this time.
Domestic Violence Advocacy Program
Janine Howard-O’Rangers, Esquire
Delaware Volunteer Legal Services
Jacki Chacona, Esquire
Delaware Volunteer Legal Services
Laura Graham, Esquire
Community Legal Aid Society Inc.
Call the 24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline in your area for assistance and resources, including shelter:
Kent & Sussex (English): 302-422-8058
Kent & Sussex (Spanish): 302-745-9874
Contact the Domestic Violence Advocacy Program for help with Protection From Abuse filings: 302-255-2609.
Contact Delaware Volunteer Legal Services (DVLS) or Community Legal Aid Society Inc. (CLASI) for free, confidential representation on a Protection From Abuse matter:
CLASI – Sussex County: 302-856-0038
Information about the PFA process can be found on the Family Court website at https://courts.delaware.gov/family/