By Rory I. Lancman
Every October, our nation comes together to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is a time to reflect on the progress that has been made, and acknowledge difficult truths in order to move forward — particularly here in New York City.
First, the good news: In contrast with decades past, domestic violence is no longer viewed as a “private family matter.” There is recognition in New York City that domestic violence has devastating and lasting effects on families and children. As a result, advocacy organizations, service providers, and government agencies have worked to develop innovative policies and programs to help those in need.
Last month, the City Council’s Committee on Courts & Legal Services, which I chair, held a hearing to examine the operations of the city’s different Domestic Violence Courts. These courts have systematically changed how our city’s legal system handles such cases in order to better connect victims to services, hold perpetrators accountable, and address the many custody, support, and matrimonial issues that can arise in a domestic violence case.
At the hearing we heard testimony from legal services providers, victims advocates, and a judge who presides over one of our city’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, and we found that though these specialized courts have tremendous potential to help New Yorkers, we must do more to ensure appropriate services are readily available and have the necessary capacity.
Domestic violence destroys lives. Victims often face physical injury or emotional trauma, lose jobs or miss hours, and, increasingly, end up in homeless shelters with their children. In fact, domestic violence recently surpassed eviction as the leading cause of homelessness in New York City.
Today, our city is at a crossroads when it comes to domestic violence. While the city’s crime rate has generally declined, the number of domestic violence offenses has increased — both in total number and as a percentage of overall crime in the city.
The numbers paint a troubling picture. Last year, the NYPD responded to more than 91,000 domestic violence calls involving intimate partners, marking an increase of more than 22.6 percent over the previous year. In 2016 alone, there were 63 family-related homicides, including 38 of intimate partners.
Simply put, domestic violence remains a frightening reality for too many New Yorkers.
There is no single solution to combating domestic violence, but there is one area where each of us can make a difference: your voice and your advocacy.
We are reminded during Domestic Violence Awareness Month that the power to speak up is critical to ending abuse. We must let victims know they are not alone, and that help is available. We must support advocates and local organizations on the front lines assisting our fellow New Yorkers. We must declare loudly, with one voice, that it is never OK to physically or emotionally abuse another person. We cannot tolerate this despicable behavior in New York City, or anywhere else.
By working together, we can help save lives, reduce violence and abuse, and end the silence and stigma around domestic violence.
Rory I. Lancman
City Councilman (D-Hillcrest)