BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Guadalupe Mendieta usually visits The Healing Center in Bay Ridge to participate in a support group for domestic violence victims. But during the pandemic, she drops in just to pick up groceries and a gift card.
The center has shifted its services to provide food, financial aid and remote outreach to its clients, instead of on site counseling.
"It’s missing”, said Mendieta. “Having that contact with other people especially because we are social and we need people around us. It's kind of hard."
Experts say home isolation in this pandemic has helped to fuel domestic violence and forced organizations like The Healing Center to find new ways to help victims. The center says distributing food is one way it now provides assistance.
"One of the only times that someone who's a victim of domestic violence might be able to leave the house is to go to the food pantry to get food," said Stephanie Rodriguez, Youth Programming Director at The Healing Center.
The Healing Center says not only has it taken new cases over the past two months but some old ones have resurfaced.
"Women coming back that maybe we worked with a couple of years ago and we're seeing these families coming back to us," said Executive Director Antonia Clemente. “Coming back for food security, coming back because they're not sure how to handle being home with their abusers”.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez says 90 percent of domestic violence arrests now are for misdemeanor level assaults, the rest for felonies. Although his office is mostly working remotely, the Domestic Violence Bureau is busy.
"Our social workers have really been extraordinary in their abilities to work with people doing safety planning, helping change locks on people's doors and really making sure that people understand that they're still going to be protected during this health crisis," Gonzalez said.
Orders of protection have been extended automatically. The DA has installed Plexiglass partitions and other safety measures in its office to conduct hearings again.
"These are cases where people have been arrested for domestic violence, they've been detained in jail and on bail. And we're calling in our victims to come into our office and doing a virtual proceeding with the judge. It’s pretty remarkable. It’s the first time we’ve ever done this," Gonzalez noted.
Both the DA and the Healing Center predict reports of abuse will go up as more victims leave their homes as the pandemic eases. And the groups will be there to provide support.