While many families may be experiencing extra stress while being home all day with one another in close quarters, victims of domestic violence can be living a nightmare.

Rebecca Martorella, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Darien, said the current environment is “a perfect storm” for domestic abuse, for several reasons.

“Families are contained in close quarters, and isolated. They are not being seen by co-workers, teachers, doctors, etc., who may be confidants or mandated to report any visible signs of abuse,” she said. “Children are home and begging for attention. Liquor stores are open and alcohol is often a factor in domestic abuse.”

According to Martorella, abusive partners may use this time of isolation to control their victims — perhaps refusing to get them medical treatment, refill prescriptions, connect them with family members, or let them leave the home — using the virus as an excuse.

“There is a lack of privacy for a victim to talk in confidence, which may prevent them from seeking help,” she said. “Additionally, our current healthcare services are overwhelmed and people may not be comfortable going to hospitals and risking exposure to the coronavirus.”

Helping victims

Martorella is program manager of the IPV-FAIR program at Family ReEntry, which provides clinical and case management services to help reduce intimate partner violence in families referred by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Her program is currently not seeing families in their homes as they usually do, but instead connecting with clients via phone or video services to continue their treatment program, as well as assess their safety.

“Video is always preferred so we can have a visual of the clients and their home, and it is better for clinical work when you can get nonverbal as well as verbal communication,” she said.

However, she said the program has many clients who don’t have video services accessible, or the privacy for them.

In whatever way they can connect, however, “We always safety plan with our clients and try to help them plan ahead,” she said.

For example, she recommends leaving important documents or information with a friend or family member, or having a regular check-in time with a safe contact.

“This situation is unprecedented and came with little warning, but there are still ways to connect,” she said.

Darien police

According to Lt. Alison Hudyma of the Darien Police Department, the reasons behind domestic violence incidents are so varied that it would be difficult to project with any real authority any increase specifically due to the COVID-19 crisis with the restrictions and temporary changes to residents’ lives.

However, she said the fact that increases could occur because of people staying at home, coupled with uncertain and potentially trying circumstances — such as work layoffs, furloughs, college and school closings — “is certainly on our radar.”

To date, there have been no statistically significant differences in the data between this year and last year, in regard to calls related regarding domestic violence, Hudyma said.

For the month of March in Darien, there have been a total of eight domestic violence related calls, four arrests, and four verbal incidents or non-arrests. A domestic call that does not end in an arrest is usually a verbal argument or a situation where there is no probable cause that a crime occurred.

Restraining orders online

The judicial branch last week implemented a new procedure for filing temporary restraining orders remotely to maintain social distancing and to make it easier for victims.

Judge Michael Albis, chief administrative judge of family matters, said in the announcement, “We hope this new procedure will be of great assistance to those victims of domestic violence who may be unable to leave their home at this time.”

The new process eliminates the requirement that applicants seeking a temporary restraining order must swear under oath that the statement is true, while still legally obligating the applicant to make true statements.

Temporary restraining orders may be filed via fax or email during courthouse hours, and applicants who file a digital application may sign it electronically. The same process is available for civil orders of protection. Instructions will be posted on jud.ct.gov this week.

What to do

Mark Sherman, a Stamford defense attorney who practices domestic violence law, is publisher of the Connectict Domestic Violence site. He said he’s definitely seeing an uptick of domestic violence incidents over the last three weeks.

“The combination of the stress of uncertainty, financial stress and fear of contracting the virus have caused family to be on edge,” Sherman said.

One tip for families faced with stressful situations at home, Sherman said, is before a fight occurs, to create safe communication and conflict resolution strategies, and create a safe space within the home.

Sherman also added that victims should know Department of Children & Families investigations are still ongoing throughout the pandemic, with many of them being conducted virtually.

Sherman’s law practice page offers tips for domestic violence victims during the coronavirus crisis at markshermanlaw.com/blog/covid-19-tips-for-domestic-violence-victims-in-connecticut.

Reaching out

Those who feel in danger of domestic violence should reach out for help from friends or family, in any way they can. They can also call the hotline numbers, speak to advocates, and do whatever they can to keep themselves safe, according to Hudyma.

“Each victim knows what can keep them the safest based on their individual situations,” Hudyma said.

The Darien Police Department stills responds 24-7 to its residents who are in need of immediate assistance. They will maintain the recommended six-feet safe distance when possible and wear PPE (personal protective equipment) when needed.

Safety plan

On the DVCC’s website, there is a safety plan to follow during COVID-19, for victims who live with an abuser.

 Stay in an area with an exit and avoid letting the abuser get between you and the exit. Avoid rooms with weapons such as the kitchen.

 Create a code word or signal to use with someone trustworthy for when they should call police.

 For one’s emotional well-being, keep up with self-care. This includes exercising, reading, keeping a journal or meditating. Also, find a place where you can relax and feel safe.

Resources

Despite the current pandemic, there are still domestic violence resources available via hotlines, and safe houses are still open if shelter is needed.

 For immediate assistance in case of an emergency, call 911. This number can also be texted by putting 911 in the number field and stating where and what the emergency is in the message field.

 Darien Domestic Violence Abuse Council: ddacinc06820.org or ddacinc06820@gmail.com.

 The DVCC’s Stamford and Norwalk physical offices are temporarily closed. For help, call the 24-hour hotline at 888-774-2900.

 Domestic Violence Crisis Center: 203-588-9100,

 DCF (Department of Children and Families) Careline to report child abuse or neglect (which includes exposure to violence): 800-842-2288.

 National Teen Dating Abuse hotline: 866-331-9474; text loveis to 22522; or chat online at loveisrespect.org.

Additional reporting by Susan Shultz.

sfox@darientimes.com