Although Governor Cuomo has been under the microscope since last March for his pandemic response in New York State, COVID-19 isn’t the only issue on his mind that’s impacting New Yorkers. The governor received widespread praise from advocates earlier this week when he announced new initiatives to combat both domestic and gender-based violence statewide in 2021.
Domestic violence, which is defined as an assault alleged to have occurred between persons who have a domestic relationship, is a problem nationwide — and many experts have said that it’s only gotten worse since the onset of the pandemic. As a result, Cuomo has unveiled plans for bolstering New York State’s response to domestic violence cases in an effort to help victims through a variety of means.
Among the initiatives revealed is a proposal that would allow courts to require that abusers pay for damages to housing units, moving expenses, and other domestic violence-related housing costs. Another proposal in the package would require the Office of Court Administration to report domestic violence felony statistics to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services on a monthly basis. Although a felony domestic violence conviction can include a punishment of up to five years in prison, the statistics surrounding domestic violence tend to be lacking in general, as the stigma and dangers surrounding the reporting process continue to be pervasive.
Additionally, the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence would be reimagined and renamed as the Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, signaling a shifted focus on survivors of abuse situations. The office will be responsible for “addressing the intersection of the many forms of intimate partner violence, including domestic violence and sexual violence, in a survivor-centered and comprehensive manner,” according to the governor’s website.
Those who are familiar with the cycle of abuse, which typically involves periods of love-bombing, apologies, and broken promises, have expressed support for the shift that will put more of the spotlight on survivors. While 86% of people say receiving flowers makes them feel special, gestures like these are often used by abusers to keep their victims engaged in the cycle. The formation of the new office will become a hub for policy and programming for New Yorkers who face domestic and gender-based violence. In addition to cross-agency collaboration and making gender equality and justice for survivors a main pillar of the state’s government in 2021, programs like 24/7 chatlines and texting platforms for domestic violence survivors, housing resources, additional training for professionals working with immigrants and incarcerated populations, and “listening tours” with survivors will be prioritized.
The state has already taken other steps to ensure abusers can’t exploit loopholes in the system that previously allowed for gun ownership. But because certain domestic violence misdemeanors aren’t labeled a certain way, the process of blocking gun access to convicted abusers can be highly complicated. Cuomo will therefore propose a “domestic violence misdemeanor label” in order to further close the gaps.
In an official statement, Governor Cuomo explained: “One of the most horrific results of this pandemic has been the stark rise in cases of domestic and gender-based violence. New York has long been a national leader in the fight to end these despicable acts and we will continue to blaze the path forward toward a safer future for all. Not only are we fighting to ensure abusers are forced to pay for the damage they create and strengthening our laws to keep guns out of their hands, but we are also reimagining the way government supports survivors and gets them the resources they need to move on with their lives.”
Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to Governor Cuomo and Chair of the New York State Council on Women and Girls, added: “New York has long led the nation’s fight against domestic violence and with the tragic increase in this heinous acts spurred on by the pandemic, we are doubling-down on those efforts. This disgusting behavior must end and to do that, we are fighting to ensure abusers can no longer exploit loopholes to obtain guns and are the ones forced pay for the results of their devastation. However, it doesn’t end there — we need to reimagine how government supports survivors and gets them the resources they need. Through the new Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, New York will embark on a holistic, survivor-focused approach towards helping rebuild lives.”