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Officials: Coronavirus partly behind Nassau domestic violence spike

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Keith Scott, director of education at the Safe Center LI, Nassau County's domestic abuse treatment center, explains how a pandemic such as COVID-19, can add dangers to victims of domestic abuse. Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Domestic violence cases spiked 10% in Nassau since the start of the year, county officials said Tuesday, in part due to personal and financial stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nassau County Police Department has received 2,825 reports of domestic violence between Jan. 1 and March 23, up from 2,552 during the same period in 2019, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said at a news conference in Mineola with County Executive Laura Curran and advocates for domestic violence victims.

Alcohol abuse sparked by the pandemic is a factor in the increased domestic violence cases, according to the police commissioner.

“If you have seen the lines," Ryder said, "they are around the block at the liquor stores.” 

Curran said potential victims of domestic violence are particularly vulnerable now that so many families are hunkered down together.

“For those who are in abusive households, where domestic violence is a reality even in the most bustling of times, Curran said, "home can really start to feel like a trap.” 

Year-to-date domestic violence numbers were not immediately available from Suffolk police. Sgt. Kelly Lynch, commander of the Suffolk police department’s Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse Unit, said she has not seen a marked increase in reports. 

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Lynch said her officers are no longer checking on domestic violence survivors in person, but they are staying in touch by phone and email. People who need orders of protection can request one from a judge through teleconferencing, she said.

“We are concerned about this virus forcing people to stay indoors with their abusers,” Lynch said. 

Suffolk police said officers are still responding in person to 911 calls.

The Safe Center, which provides support services to domestic violence victims in Nassau County, is continuing to offer crisis services, including its 24-hour hotline, shelter and child advocacy center, said executive director Cindy Scott at the news conference. She said the agency is offering counseling, educational and legal services remotely. 

“We know that we are likely to see an increase in interpersonal violence during these really difficult times due to the increase in stress levels for people, as well as the fact that perpetrators and victims are spending more time together now that we are required to shelter at home,” Scott said. " … This situation also makes it difficult for victims to reach out for help. So we are encouraging everyone experiencing interpersonal violence to reach out to us if possible through our hotline.” 

Long Island Against Domestic Violence is also continuing to staff its 24-hour hotline and provide other services, executive director Colleen Merlo said, adding that hotline calls have not increased since the coronavirus crisis hit the area.

Merlo said she feared domestic violence perpetrators, who often try to isolate victims, are using the coronavirus crisis to keep those they abuse from family, friends and work colleagues. 

“We know abusers say ‘You can’t go out,’ but now they can say ‘the governor of New York doesn’t want you to leave the house,' " Merlo said. " … I’m worried about the people who can’t reach out for help now. My fear is that this will get worse before it gets better.” 

The Safe Center’s 24-hour hotline is 516-542-0404. The agency can also be reached by email -- info@tscli.org -- or through its website -- tscli.org. 

The 24-hour hotline for Long Island Against Domestic Violence is 631-666-8833. Its website is LIADV.org


Correction: In a prior version of this story, incorrect phone numbers were listed for the 24-hour-hotlines.

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