In late April, the Plattsburgh Police said that because people in the Lake City are essentially forced to stay home, domestic violence calls are up by 50% from the same time last year. According to the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York’s Plattsburgh office, support service agencies for survivors aren’t experiencing a similar increase in demand.
“Many survivors are shut in with their children right now and with their abusers, and the opportunities for privacy and to reach out to service providers and to legal assistance providers has really been extraordinarily limited,” Legal Aid Society managing attorney Susan Gagnon said.
The society held a virtual town hall Friday afternoon to discuss how COVID-19 is affecting domestic violence victims. “On the calls we are still getting, we are hearing a lot of extreme violence involved in the abuse that our survivors are enduring at home,” Gagnon said. “We’re also hearing a lot about abusers utilizing the social distancing guidelines to control a survivor’s life, withholding children.”
Despite the pandemic, service agencies are still offering emotional support, help with getting personal protection orders and help with personal safety planning, among other things. A representative from one such agency elsewhere in the Empire State — Catholic Charities of Delaware, Otsego & Schoharie Counties — joined Friday’s video call. “Maybe somebody can’t leave their residence now or they can’t really think about making steps forward,” Angela Smith said. “We can help them think about how to stay safe in their home; we’re there to support them through that process.”
“We’re providing legal assistance to our communities through video conferencing, through telephone and even appearing in court through virtual proceedings, so we’re all still here, ready, willing and able to help,” Gagnon added. New York courts are restricted to handling essential matters only, but protection orders and other proceedings crucial to survivors are in that category.
If you’re a survivor in the North Country in need of legal help, you can reach out to the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York by visiting their website or by calling their Plattsburgh office at (518) 563-4022. The office on Court Street is closed because of the coronavirus, but staff members are working from home.