Tanzina: In our series Justice Delayed, we've been talking about how the pandemic has led to a backlog of court cases of all kinds. Some States shuttered courts altogether for a time, others open them with specific kinds of cases taking priority, and others are only conducting proceedings virtually. That changing court landscape means more and more victims of intimate partner violence may be facing delays in their cases and struggling to receive or even reach out for the resources they need. Picking up on our series, Justice Delayed, we have Margo Lindauer, the Director of the Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. Margo, thanks for joining us.
Margo: Thank you for having me.
Tanzina: What types of intimate partner violence are we seeing nationally right now?
Margo: We're seeing similar types of intimate partner violence that we always see. We're just seeing an increase in numbers and severity with a decrease in services. We see intimate partner violence between intimate partners or romantic partners. We see violence in the home between family members. We see violence in the home between roommates and housemates as well.
Tanzina: We talked a little bit about this on a global scale in the last segment, but what's really driving this? Is it the pressure cooker environment that a lot of us are in because we're home more and we're isolated more from other folks?
Margo: I think it's multiple factors. I don't think we can pick just one. I think the isolation of the pandemic certainly has exacerbated rates and risks of intimate partner violence. We see the economic impact of the pandemic, particularly on communities that are vulnerable exacerbating intimate partner violence, housing, instability exacerbating intimate partner violence, the challenge of many, many schools being closed and students going online also exacerbating stress and intimate violence in the home.
Tanzina: What did the intimate partner violence landscape look like in terms of getting help before the pandemic?
Margo: That's a really good question because it was never enough. The service availability prior to the pandemic in the United States in March, we always saw more demand than supply. What I mean by that is there were always more individuals seeking shelter than there were shelter beds available. There were always more individuals seeking legal service help than there were legal services available. There were always more individuals seeking domestic violence services in general, housing services in general. What we've seen with the pandemic is that the demand has increased and the supply of services has decreased dramatically. Many folks who may need help and may want help are not getting the help that they need.
Tanzina: I understand what's led to the increase in need. But what's led to the decrease in supply?
Margo: One of the things that we're experiencing is that as many organizations and institutions have moved their operations to online or to virtual intervention or virtual services rather, that might not work for the population we're serving. That's twofold, right? Maybe an individual who's seeking services cannot or does not have access to the technology required to meet with a case manager or a lawyer virtually. That's one. The other is that virtual engagement might be convenient for some people in that you don't have to leave your home, of course, but it might be unsafe for a victim who is living or in close proximity to their abuser.
The other thing we're seeing, at least in Boston, is that some hearings on particularly restraining order or intimate partner violence, civil restraining orders, many courts are requiring individuals to appear in person for those hearings. What we're seeing also is that many of those individuals prior to the pandemic may have been eligible for pro bono representation through a variety of different resources, that many individuals, many lawyers, and many firms in many organizations are not allowing their attorneys to go in in-person. Even where it wasn't enough attorneys prior to the pandemic to do pro bono or low bono representation, there are even fewer attorneys available now. That's just one example.
Tanzina: Let's talk about-- so beyond the lack of attorneys that are available, what about the courts themselves? I've had to handle some basic things, what I thought were basic things in court, and even then, the folks there have said to me, "Look, we are backed up. Anything that you've got to handle is going to take longer than normal." Are there also delays in terms of reporting, filing, for example, restraining orders or orders of protection?
Margo: Yes. There are absolutely significant delays in the court system. What I will say is that many courts are prioritizing restraining orders, civil restraining orders, as they are emergency in nature. I will also say that many criminal cases that involve domestic violence have been pushed back and have experienced incredible delays. Many of the cases where an individual might have a civil restraining order against their abuser, they may also be a victim in a criminal case and those cases have experienced incredible delays. Courts are operating on a skeletal staff. They are operating in some form of hybrid in-person and remote operation. Most courts, as far as I know, are not seeding any juries or doing any jury trials. Many of the criminal cases involving intimate partner violence have experienced incredible backlogs.
Tanzina: We've read stories, particularly in the New York Law Journal, about how lawyers, some of them at the peak of the pandemic, were trying to communicate their clients from parking lots and random places, just scrambling to try and help these folks. Have you heard from lawyers as well, who are really doing everything that they can to try and ameliorate some of the issues that these intimate partner violence victims are experiencing?
Margo: Yes, I would say that advocates in general, not just lawyers, many are using their client's experiences and their client's stories and what is safe for their clients to meet them where they are if that is safe. What I will say is that many advocates, case managers, lawyers are confronting challenges with organizational protocol about in-person case management and advocacy so there's some tension there.
Tanzina: Is it that advocates are trying to physically meet with their clients and are unable to do that because of the pandemic?
Margo: Yes. I would say that there is certainly a real challenge of meeting in-person for certain advocates. Certain organizations aren't allowing it. Certain advocates cannot because of pre-existing conditions of their own or family members and so it is really challenging to meet in-person. Vice versa for victims as well, it might not be safe for them to meet in-person or they may not be able to leave their homes.
Tanzina: What about the effect that all of this is having, if the couple has children, on the children, the stresses or mental health effects on families that are having to go through the system during the pandemic?
Margo: Absolutely. The impact on children is severe. It always is severe. What we see in pre-pandemic times is that schools often are a positive source of intervention and services for many children who are witnessing domestic violence and experiencing the impacts of domestic violence. We're also seeing, of course, that the stress of remote education has its own mental health impact on children. For a child living in a home where they're exposed to violence and experiencing the pandemic and the isolation associated with not being in school, the impact is severe
Tanzina: Margo, we want to offer some hope to people who may be listening to this and who may be in an intimate partner violence situation that they feel trapped in. What are some real steps that someone in that situation can take right now?
Margo: What I would say is help and advocacy looks different for different people. While there have always been, for the last 40 or so years, traditional domestic violence agencies and hotlines that are available and are a wonderful resource, many individuals might not feel comfortable going to those resources for help. What I would say is that encouraging people to identify and look for positive sources of help, either within their communities, within their families, and turning to domestic violence agencies and reaching out for help, and however it feels comfortable and safe for them.
What I will say is that more and more community-based agencies, including faith-based organizations, have more training related to intimate partner violence and have more potential services and interventions available to them. I will also say that because of the pandemic, organizations have become more creative in the services that they've offered. While traditional domestic violence shelters per se, might not be appropriate because of social distancing protocols, many agencies have, and can offer other forms of emergency shelter intervention in the form of hotels or long-stay apartments. I would encourage individuals who are experiencing intimate partner violence to look for local agencies, local resources, and reach out for help.
Tanzina: Margo Lindauer is the Director of the Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. Margo, thanks so much.
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