Domestic Violence and COVID-19: What the Community Needs to Know

Portraits of panelists Martine J. Baron, Nathaniel M. Fields, Dorchen A. Leidholdt, and Quentin Walcott; and moderators Rev. Sydney M. Avent and Rose Pierre-Louis

(NEW YORK, September 22, 2020) With concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 on domestic violence growing in New York City, and in commemoration of the upcoming Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2020 in October, a virtual town hall with experts and advocates took place on Tuesday evening.

Video Recording

Reverend Sydney M. Avent of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Rose Pierre-Louis, Chief Operating Officer of the McSilver Institute and former Commissioner of Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, co-moderated the event. The speakers included Martine J. Baron, a Licensed Social Worker and Ministry Leader in the Center for Care and Advocacy Ministry at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York;  Nathaniel M. Fields, President and CEO of Urban Resource Institute (URI NYC); Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Esq., Director of Legal Center at Sanctuary for Families; and Quentin Walcott, Co-Executive Director of CONNECT, Inc.

The lead sponsors for the free event included the Greater New York Chapter of The Links, Inc. (of which Rev. Avent and Pierre-Louis are members), McSilver Institute, Abyssinian Baptist Church, URI NYC and CONNECT, Inc. After welcoming remarks by Dr. Donna Jones, President of the Greater New York Chapter of The Links, Inc., the conversation commenced about the scope of the problem and what is being done locally to address it.

Defining the Problem

“Domestic violence is principally about power and control and the forms that it takes are often subtle,” said Leidholdt of Sanctuary for Families.  “They often don’t leave physical marks and they involve tactics of power and control.”

While people tend to think that the problem is primarily about physical and sexual violence, Leidholdt explained that what often leaves lasting trauma and damage in the lives of survivors are the following: “Using coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming-shifting responsibility onto the survivor. Today, we might call it today gaslighting.”

She added the exploitation of children and using them as pawns to the list of domestic abuse concerns, and said that there’s increasing recognition of the dangers of psychological abuse and cyber-sexual abuse.

The Role of Men and the Extra Burden on Women of Color

Walcott says his organization CONNECT, Inc. focuses on including men in the equation of interrupting violence and preventing future incidents of violence, and working within local communities to break cycles of abuse.

He also noted that women of color experiencing domestic violence have the added burden of worrying how racism within law enforcement will affect their abusers. “Even though they’re being harmed by someone, they’re really concerned about the system harming the person who is harming them and have to live with the fact that that they’ll be blamed. You know, survivors of domestic violence are blamed and women of color are blamed, probably even more than any other group of people.”

The Scope of the Problem in New York City

The New York City Police Department answers about 230,000 domestic incident calls each year, said Fields, whose organization provides shelter and services to thousands of survivors and their children each year in New York City. URI NYC alone receives about 80,000 calls each year to their domestic violence hotline.

“We do a lot of work with children and breaking cycles of violence,” Fields said. People who witness abuse are at greater risk for either becoming abused or perpetrating abuse later on, he explained. “So we want to engage children early on in early intervention to provide services and really work with the whole family to heal and to be able to move forward.”

Yet, he noted, increasingly individuals without children are seeking shelters. Survivors in the LGBTQ community who need refuge—and are more likely to seek it as single individuals—face greater challenges for placement that need addressing, Fields added.

How the Faith-Based Community is Stepping Up

Baron addressed the important and unique role that faith-based institutions can play in addressing domestic violence. “The church is one of the first places people come to when they are having issues of domestic violence. So we want to offer our overall support, education and referral, so the person can feel safe.” She added that all of the ministerial staff at Abyssinian Baptist Church have been trained by Walcott’s organization CONNECT, Inc. on how to interview clients and victims of domestic violence, and that social workers such as herself are part of the process.

The discussion was supported by the many organizations and local leaders listed below.

Watch the full conversation in the video above.

For resources about domestic violence and getting help in the time of COVID-19, refer to a list compiled by the Greater New York Chapter of The Links, Inc.

Download slides (PDF).

Lead Sponsors

The Greater New York Chapter of the Links, Abyssinian Church, The NYU McSilver Institute, CONNECT, Sanctuary for Families, and the Urban Resource Institute of NYC sponsored this event.


Community Sponsors

Supporting Community Sponsors Include: Brookdale Hospital, Canaan Baptist Church, East Harlem Tutorial Program, Greater Allen Cathedral, Harlem Boys and Girls Club, Harlem Hospital, Hollaback!, Move Forward Staten Island, One Hundred Black Men, and the Wall Street Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated

In Collaboration With:

  • U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat
  • NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer
  • NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
  • Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
  • Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte
  • Assemblymember Inez E. Dickens
  • Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez
  • Assemblymember Al Taylor
  • NYC Councilmember Bill Perkins
  • NYC Councilmember Farah N. Louis
Photo of Rosemonde Pierre-Louis
Rosemonde Pierre-Louis
Executive Director