The NYPD saw far fewer domestic violence complaints citywide last year compared to 2019′s totals, according to department data published this month.
However, experts said the actual climate of domestic violence during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a more complex picture.
Victims were forced inside with their abusers throughout much of 2020, advocates have said, and conditions caused by the pandemic — ranging from fiscal security to health concerns — could have made calling police for instances of domestic violence a non-option.
“People weren’t reaching out to the police for a variety of reasons, primarily because the abusive partner was often in the home and it felt very unsafe for police to respond,” said Kimberlina Kavern, the senior director of the Crime Victim Assistance Program at Safe Horizon — which operates within the borough’s Family Justice Center (FJC). “And if police were called and the responders stayed in the home, once the police left, the victim might be in more danger because of having called the police.”
The NYPD’s 2020 annual local law 38 report showed that the department logged 79,200 domestic violence complaints citywide in 2020, compared to 87,512 instances in 2019 — nearly a 10% decrease.
On Staten Island, every precinct but the NYPD’s 123rd Precinct on the South Shore saw a reduction in domestic violence complaints. Most stark was a more-than-21% decrease in the borough’s 120th Precinct, based in St. George — where overall complaints dropped from 1,838 in 2019 to 1,442 in 2020.
The number of chronic domestic violence offenders, which are labeled by the NYPD as individuals who have been arrested for a domestic violence-related offense three times within an 18-month span, also decreased heavily — falling more than 32% on Staten Island.
And chronic domestic violence complaints on Staten Island, which totaled 129 in 2019, fell to just 65 in 2020, the NYPD data showed. Those incidents are labeled by the department as crimes involving chronic offenders.
CHALLENGES EXACERBATED BY PANDEMIC
The pandemic exacerbated challenges domestic violence victims face outside of abuse, said Kavern, and those factors, including lack of housing stability and food security, are part of the holistic approach that she said advocates aim to address.
“If you’re worried about where your family is going to sleep tonight, you might not be as worried about the violence happening in your home,” said Kavern. “So, we really want to let people know that we’re here to try to meet all of their needs.”
At Safe Horizon, Kavern said a fluctuation of people using the organization’s services was observed throughout the past 16 months, with calls to its hotline increasing at the start of the outbreak before leveling off.
In March 2020, Safe Horizon’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline (800-621-4673) had stable numbers before calls peaked in the spring and summer, according to the organization’s data. June 2020 had 50% more calls compared to the previous year.
Since then, Safe Horizon has seen a steady decrease in calls as more options for safety planning open up. However, this past March’s calls still remained 42% higher than the same span in 2020 — when the pandemic was just beginning to take hold on New York.
The coronavirus outbreak provided domestic violence advocates with a crash-course in shifting to a virtual model for providing services that otherwise would have been given in person, experts said.
Jennifer DeCarli, the assistant commissioner of FJC Operations & Programming for the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), said that some of those virtual services could be here to stay.
“We want to make sure we’re listening to survivors who are telling us that they want us to continue some of those [digital services], and then figure out ways to safely open the centers for those clients who can’t do that, either because it’s not safe or because they can’t effectively connect in that way,” said DeCarli.
While domestic violence services were entirely remote since a state of emergency was declared in New York last year, some portions of the borough’s FJC are in the process of moving to a hybrid model, including Staten Island’s center, DeCarli said.
That shift to online support, however, has laid bare the extent of the digital divide — the gap between those who have readily available electronic devices and internet access and those who do not.
DeCarli said the agency has “learned so much about the digital divide.” She added the Mayor’s Office to ENDGBV has provided a range of services, including providing computer access for court appearances, therapist sessions and other technical support for survivors in need to combat that gulf.
A new partnership with T-Mobile is also expected to soon be announced that would provide 1,000 free phones to New York City survivors, said DeCarli, including affordable plans to help access virtual services. The city previously announced a collaboration with Norton LifeLock to provide survivors of domestic and gender-based violence with cybersecurity protection.
Overall, ENDGBV has provided services to more than 33,000 clients, including over 15,590 new clients, according to agency data. Family Justice Centers in the five boroughs have answered an average of 101 telephone calls a day — serving an average of 109 clients and 51 new clients every 24-hours since March 18, 2020.
Highlighting the stark need for services, the city’s NYC HOPE website has seen over 132,000 visits since last March, and average visits have more than tripled.
While New York City has seen vast improvement concerning the coronavirus throughout the five boroughs, the battle against its lingering effects are likely just beginning.
Studies have shown that the delayed psychological effects of quarantine could be lingering for many. DeCarli said the agency’s services include a mental health therapist and a psychologist at each of the city’s FJCs.
“Staff has definitely told me that over the past 16 months they’ve had a lot of clients who, prior to the pandemic, they would say they were stable … and they have seen that some of those clients have reached out for help because the pandemic has triggered a lot of things for them and added more trauma and stress,” said DeCarli. “So, we definitely have seen an increased need for mental health services.”
District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, whose office has distributed resources for survivors of domestic violence throughout the pandemic and worked closely with the Mayor’s Office to ENDGBV, said he is “gravely concerned that the COVID pandemic has worsened the situation yet suppressed the outreach for help of many sufferers of domestic violence.”
McMahon said his office’s Domestic Violence Bureau will continue to work closely with the NYPD, the FJC, the Mayor’s Office to ENDGBV and Safe Horizon to address survivors’ needs.
“Victims of domestic violence should know they can always access the services offered through the FJC, my office, and other agencies regardless of their decision to move forward with the criminal prosecution of a case,” said McMahon. “We cannot stress enough the importance of having these critical resources available to victims, and we encourage anyone facing a domestic violence situation to contact my office or the FJC at any time; my office and our partners remain committed to doing the difficult work to ensure victims always have a place to turn.”
Resources for survivors:
March 11, 2020
By Carmen Fleming and Dana Rosenwasser
High-profile court cases in which multiple sexual assault survivors come out against people in power like Harvey Weinstein shine a light on the obstacles survivors face when seeking justice. But why is the case against Harvey Weinstein a landmark for survivors? What does it mean for rape and sexual assault survivors in the legal system? Our criminal justice experts explain.
The rape and sexual assault survivors we serve are often forced into sex acts by intimate partners, or other people they have relationships with, so we know first-hand that it happens. Like all types of abuse, rape itself is about having power and control over someone. We often see abusive relationships where partners use sexual violence in addition to money, verbal threats, or physical abuse to gain and maintain control over a partner. When sexual violence happens, survivors in these relationships may not even register they were raped or sexually assaulted.
Survivors stay or continue relationships for various personal reasons. Often they are dependent on the partner financially or emotionally. They can be ashamed of talking about it or fear retaliation. We heard this from Weinstein’s victims during the trial. They continued relationships with Weinstein because they were threatened to have their careers ruined and to be publicly shamed, so they were silenced.
The fact that the jury found Weinstein guilty means people are beginning to understand that rape can happen in a relationship. The conviction recognizes that the underlying principles of intimidation and coercion, are complex topics that are hard to unpack and explain to the general public. During the trial, Weinstein’s defense pointed to the normality of the relationship: “Look at the loving messages right after the assault happened,” they said. There was a lot of reason for people to doubt it happened because of the continuing sexual relationship, but the jury still found Harvey Weinstein guilty — that means something.
It’s an important step in dismantling the narrative of an ideal victim by showing that there are many situations in which rape can happen. It’s likely that more people who work in the criminal justice system will understand the true nature of rape and sexual assault, and they will believe survivors.
Although this sentencing was a win for some survivors, it’s still unfair for all the women who were denied justice before the #MeToo movement, and before it was more socially acceptable to speak openly about rape. For those survivors, the statute of limitations was over and they were not able to be part of the case. That’s why it’s so important to enact laws such as the Adult Survivors Act to help survivors seek justice when they’re ready. The Adult Survivors Act is a bill that would let people who were sexually assaulted in New York State sue the person who harmed them and/or the negligent institution via a one-year lookback window. Learn more about the ASA here.
The Weinstein case also carries heavy racial implications. It sends the message that when white women come out against white men in power, they are more likely to be believed than people, particularly women, of color. In the case against R. Kelly, for example, he was found not guilty in court because women of color were not believed. White survivors may be celebrating, but survivors of color still need their voices heard.
We encourage all survivors to choose the option that is right for them. If you’re in New York City, you can access resources by calling Safe Horizon’s Rape and Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-212-227-3000. One of our advocates will listen without judgment and support you in figuring out possible next steps.
The Crime Victim Assistance Program (CVAP), staffs an advocate in every police precinct throughout the five boroughs. Certain precincts have new Special Victims Division units where officers are specially trained to help rape survivors.
Our Community Programs serve all five boroughs of New York City and offer counseling and case management services. Learn more about our Community Programs here.
If you are out of New York State, RAINN operates a 24/7 hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and chat service.
NYU You Matter! Podcast
By Sabah Fatima and Karen Ortman
This week on the You Matter! podcast, Wanda Lucibello and Saheli Kothari visit with Karen and Sabah to speak about Safe Horizon, its Crime Victim Assistance Program, and the resources it provides to the community.
Wanda Lucibello (above) oversees the Crime Victim Assistance Program (CVAP) at Safe Horizon. CVAP has placed victim advocates in each of the 77 NYPD precincts and 9 Police Service Areas (PSAs) covering public housing. One advocate specializes in working with victims of domestic violence; the other serves victims of all crimes.
Prior to joining Safe Horizon, Lubicello was an Assistant District Attorney at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. She was the Chief of the Special Victims Division, which was comprised of the Domestic Violence Bureau, the Victim Services Unit and the Elder Abuse Bureau. She was instrumental in the launch of New York State’s first Family Justice Center in Brooklyn in 2005; the development of the Brooklyn Early Victim Engagement (EVE) program; and the management of the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Initiative.
Lucibello was an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City from 2012-2018
By Dean Meminger
Surroundings clearly make a difference when someone has been seriously victimized and needs help.
That’s why the NYPD Special Victims Division has opened this new facility on Centre Street in Manhattan.
“What we are doing is really making an effort to get better. And everything that we have been doing has been done with the survivor in mind,” said Deputy Chief Judith Harrison.
Over the last year and a half, the Special Victims Division or SVD has undergone a major transformation, after a sharply critical report by the Department of Investigation.
Rape and sexual abuse victims had complained that they were being interviewed in old dingy offices.
Some said officers didn’t seem to take their allegations seriously.
“We made significant policy enhancements, facility improvements and restructured SVD to amplify our ability to respond effectively to survivors.” Said Police Commissioner O’Neill.
The Police Department opened renovated SVD offices in the Bronx and Brooklyn earlier this year.
Sites in Queens and Staten Island are now being remodeled, too.
The division says it has added dozens of investigators after the DOI said it was woefully understaffed. There are currently 264 officers and detectives.
“All of our investigators receive empathy training, trauma-informed training. We are giving department-wide training to patrol officers who are often the first people to get to the scene of a sex crime,” said Harrison.
Thousands of rape and other sex crimes are reported every year across the city.
“A survivor needs to know that they are in a safe place surrounded by competent dedicated professionals. And that they can share their story in a welcoming and private facility with the resources and support that they need,” said Audrey Moore, Chief of the Special Victims Bureau.
Starting on Monday, Safe Horizon advocates will work side by side with investigators at the SVD facilities in Manhattan and The Bronx.
“To answer survivors’ questions, to support them through the process. To help them get the services that they need,” said Liz Roberts, Deputy CEO of Safe Horizon.
The police department says sex crimes are greatly under-reported and it wants victims to come forward so officers can investigate their complaints. They hope these new, more welcoming offices will help.
By Gabe Herman
September 20, 2019
The New York Police Department announced earlier this month that it has opened a new Manhattan Special Victims facility in Lower Manhattan, which focuses on accommodating survivors throughout the investigative process.
The new, renovated facility at 137 Centre St., near White Street, includes a child-friendly waiting area, comfortable furniture designed for victims, and aesthetic upgrades such as art, plants and welcoming signage.
Renovations for another floor of the building are currently in the design stage, and will have include space for the District Attorney’s office and for abuse survivors, including interview rooms and waiting rooms.
There is also now an advocate on-site from Safe Horizon, a citywide nonprofit that provides social services for victims of abuse and violent crime. Safe Horizon advocates also started working in the Bronx Special Victim Division in September. And the District Attorney is expected to move into the Manhattan facility by the end of this year.
“My mission has been to create a victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations from the survivor’s first encounter with the police, and at each step through the investigation,” said Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, commanding officer of the Special Victims Division. “We have added investigators, ensured the highest quality trauma-informed, empathy-based training and a critical part of this work is creating welcoming facilities designed with the survivor in mind.”
“Our renovated Special Victims Division facilities don’t look like traditional police offices. There are comfortable couches and play areas for children, natural light and art on the walls,” Harrison added. “This wraparound approach matters for survivors’ well-being and we are committed to doing anything and everything to bring justice to the brave survivors that come forward.”
“We are proud to partner with the NYPD and its Special Victims Division to help survivors feel safe, comfortable and supported during a time when they may feel their most vulnerable,” said Ariel Zwang, CEO of Safe Horizon. “We applaud SVD for taking a trauma-informed and client-centered approach to redesigning their space and the presence of our advocates will support survivors as they seek justice and healing.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said of the new facility, “With police, prosecutors, advocates, and service providers working together under one roof to help survivors report crimes, secure justice, and heal trauma, these facilities exemplify our shared commitment to victim-centered law enforcement.”
Upgrades were also announced to the Special Victims Division facilities in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island. And the N.Y.P.D. noted that the division has had increased staffing since April 2018. The average caseload for a detective is now 61.1, down from 76.5 at the end of 2017.
There has also been enhanced training for those in the division, including trauma-informed, empathy-based training for investigators. And every police officer has gotten mandatory training about ensuring they are victim-centered when responding to a sex crime.
Sex crimes can be reported at any police facility and to any police officer, the N.Y.P.D. noted, and people can call 911 or the N.Y.P.D.’s 24-hour rape hotline at 212-267-RAPE (7273).
The Riverdale Press
By Michael Hinman
September 15, 2019
The New York Police Department has unveiled new and renovated special victims units throughout the city, including the center servicing the Bronx.
The facilities, according to police commissioner James O’Neill, were re-evaluated through the perspective of a “survivor-focused lens,” according to a release.
For the Bronx center, that means a larger child-friendly waiting area, more comfortable furniture, designated spacious interview rooms, and an on-site advocate through the advocacy group Safe Horizon.
The work was completed last April in the Bronx as well as in Brooklyn, with the Staten Island center set to be completed by the end of the year.
“My mission has been to create a victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations from the survivor’s first encounter with police, and at each step through the investigation,” said Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, commanding officer of the NYPD’s special victims division, in a release.
“We have added investigators; ensured the highest-quality trauma-informed, empathy-based training — and a critical part of this work is creating welcoming facilities designed with the survivor in mind.”
The NYPD has increased staffing in its special victims division as well, lowering the average caseload per detective from more than 76 at the end of 2017, to just over 61 now.
The division now has 316 people on staff, including 264 police officers and detectives, with 52 support staff members.
New York Daily News
By Thomas Tracy
September 6, 2019
It’s a kinder, gentler NYPD.
The police department has a new Special Victims office lower Manhattan as part of the agency’s new “survivor focused” approach to handling sex crime investigations.
Police offered a glimpse of the warm space on Centre St. near Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday.
“All of this was done with the survivor in mind,” said Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, Commanding Officer of the Special Victims Division. “We’re committed to improving the survivor’s experience at every stage of the investigation.”
Part of that includes more detectives and private interview rooms painted neutral beige and calming blue hues.
Childrens’ toys and books are stowed in cozy rooms where young victims can feel at ease.
Special Victims offices throughout the rest of the city are undergoing the same renovations, police brass said.
The revamps are part of a major 18-month overhaul of the unit that was ordered amid repeated complaints that many detectives there are inexperienced and insensitive and that not every sex crime is handled by the squad.
In March 2018, the city Department of Investigation blasted the NYPD Special Victims Division, claiming it woefully undermined sex crimes investigations because it was understaffed.
The report also criticized the department’s policy of not forwarding acquaintance and date rape cases to the unit.
As a result, all Special Victims detectives have received special empathy training and will be partnering with Safe Horizon to provide rape and sex assault victims with services and counseling.
Beginning Monday, Safe Horizon advocates will be at every Special Victims office to support victims through all the phases of the investigation, officials said.
“(All of these changes) show that we are deeply committed to doing everything and anything necessary to ensure that survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward, bravely share their experiences and help the NYPD bring to justice those who have committed these horrific crimes,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill.
New York Post
By Gabrielle Fonrouge
September 6, 2019
The NYPD unveiled its new Manhattan facility for its Special Victims Division on Friday, along with renovated SVD units in Brooklyn and The Bronx.
“Victim-centered facility upgrades” also are underway in Queens and Staten Island and will be finished by the end of the year, officials said.
Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, commanding officer of the SVD, said her team’s mission is to employ a “victim-centered approach” in everything it does.
“Traditional police facilities can often look intimidating. Over the past year, the department has undertaken major renovations,” Harrison said.
“You see the furniture, you see colors that were picked out … you see the decor, the aesthetic — all of this was done with the survivor in mind,” she said.
The facility upgrades include child-friendly waiting rooms, a designated interview room, renovated work-spaces for investigators, comfortable furniture and aesthetic improvements such as art, plants, welcoming signage and new paint with a calming blue color.
“The design of the space makes an enormous difference, the right color paint, clean and comfortable furniture, a welcoming environment — all of those things can create a space where the healing process can actually begin right away,” said Liz Roberts, the deputy CEO of the non-profit Safe Horizon, which will have on-site advocates at the Manhattan facility.
“It will make a huge difference to survivors,” Roberts said of the changes.
They come after a scathing city Department of Investigation report on the SVD in March 2018 that lambasted the unit as being woefully understaffed and ill-prepared to handle the crimes they’re in charge of investigating.
Since April 2018, the NYPD has increased staffing by 59 investigators, to 123, and now has a total of 316 workers in the entire department.
Still, for some advocates such as Jane Manning, director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, that’s just not enough people.
“Five hundred and fifty experienced detectives would be much better equipped to handle the approximately 15,000 sex crimes that are reported in New York City every year,” Manning said.
When asked about staffing, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said the department will review each facility and add more investigators as needed.
September 6, 2019
The New York City Police Department has announced the opening of the new Manhattan Special Victims facility at 137 Centre Street, along with renovations to the Brooklyn and Bronx Special Victims Division sites.
“The significant facility improvements, increased staffing, enhanced training, and new leadership within our Special Victims Division amplify our ability to respond effectively to survivors of all crimes while continuing to conduct thorough and victim-centered investigations,” said Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill.
The Manhattan facility will feature a child-friendly waiting room, a designated interview room, renovated workspace for investigators, a co-located Safe Horizon advocate beginning September 9, comfortable furniture designed for victims, and close proximity to the District Attorney.
The Brooklyn facility now has an entire new wing, along with designated waiting room spaces with child-friendly space, two designated victim interview rooms, furniture, and aesthetic upgrades and lobby improvements, including a buzzer to enter the building.
The Bronx facility will feature a large new designated child-friendly waiting area with natural light, a co-located Safe Horizon advocate beginning September 9, aesthetic and furniture improvements and renovated space for investigators.
Finally, renovations are also underway to expand the facility on Staten Island, which will include a new wing, proximity to the District Attorney, a designated child-friendly waiting and victim interview rooms, aesthetic and furniture improvements and a Safe Horizon Child Advocacy Center and ACS representatives in a connected space.
The Staten Island site will open by the end of 2019.
By Rich Lamb
September 6, 2019
The New York City Police Department on Friday unveiled the new special victims unit’s makeover to help sex assault victims feel more comfortable.
AS WBCS 880’s Rich Lamb reports, traditional police facilities can look intimidating and many victims of sexual assault are often afraid to go to police and tell their story in the environment.
SVU Deputy Chief Judith Harrison says those victims don’t have to be afraid since the new and renovated spaces set aside for sex crime victims provide a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
“You see the furniture. You see colors that were picked out with the survivor in mind. You see the decor that’s aesthetic. All of this was done with the survivor in mind,” she told reporters.
Victims also have the right to have an advocate with them at every stage of the interview process and the renovated locations.
“The design of the space makes an enormous difference,” said Safe Horizon’s Liz Roberts. “The right color paints, clean and comfortable furniture. A welcoming environment. All of those things can create a space where the healing process can actually begin.”
It may seem like an unimportant change, but NYPD officials believe the welcoming atmosphere is critical to inviting victims to open up about their trauma.
In addition to the cosmetic changes, the special victims unit has also been given a beefed up staff with 35 new detectives.
The well-being and safety of our clients and staff is always our top priority.