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NY task force aims to aid pandemic-related domestic violence victims.

With cases of domestic violence on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, a state task force Thursday announced recommendations to provide survivors with increased housing, funding and technological support.

The seven-page report by the COVID-19 Domestic Violence Task Force would overhaul the state's decades-old system for providing services to domestic violence survivors. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a drastic increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases in the state, leaving many survivors trapped at home with their abusers without access to help or resources," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. "New York has been working to modernize our systems and the way we deliver services to survivors, and the recommendations made by the task force will help address this alarming spike in domestic violence incidents while building our systems and processes back better than they were before."

Domestic violence cases jumped 33% in April, compared to one year prior while shelter occupancy rates upstate increased 19%, the report said, adding that many cases are not reported to law enforcement, particularly during the isolation spawned by the pandemic.

The recommendations would provide survivors with more flexible funding sources, housing opportunities and mobile reporting options.

The report recommends using federal stimulus funds from the pandemic to purchase cellphones for victims, particularly in underserved populations. The state's Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline should also incorporate chat and text options, officials said.

State agencies should also provide funding to local programs that support survivors' safety, housing and transportation needs with a particular focus on victims who may be targeted because of their race, gender identity, sexuality or immigration status, the task force said.

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For example, the group suggests assisting providers with creating a housing navigator system that would work with survivors to provide residential options beyond a shelter.

The panel also suggested Cuomo issue an executive order removing the requirement that domestic violence victims file a police report to access federal and state funding.

"Since the uptick in domestic violence incidents during the pandemic, New York has taken aggressive actions to find new and innovative solutions to safely reach domestic violence survivors and provide critical, lifesaving services," said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Cuomo and chair of the State Council on Women and Girls. "These recommendations build on our efforts and will help to transform and re-imagine the way we provide services by giving survivors of domestic violence choice in their future and control of their decisions."

Other task force recommendations would increase telehealth screenings for domestic violence victims and launch a public awareness campaign highlighting the financial abuse experienced by survivors, including identifying those whose credit has been ruined by their abuser. 

The state should also seek large law firms to represent immigrant victims of domestic violence through pro bono programs, the report said.

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