COVID-19 will mean more domestic abuse in Vermont; more funding needed

By Guy Page

“Stay home and stay safe” may be impossible for Vermonters at risk of domestic abuse, the Senate Judiciary Committee learned today. Domestic abuse-related 911 calls nationwide have increased since the Covid-19 State of Emergency began. Vermont reports are fairly low now, but state’s attorneys say it’s just the calm before the storm.

Committee Chair Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) today called domestic abuse “Vermont’s number one crime problem.” Covid-19 will make it worse in several ways, Judiciary learned. Solutions will require more state spending.

For starters, Covid-19 is tough on the perpetrators. More people are stuck at home. Forced staying-at-home is stressful even for strong families. High-risk abusers have “a pretty low tolerance, and Covid-19 is pushing the buttons they already have,” David D’Amora of the Council of State Governments Justice Center said. “We’re seeing this across the country.”

Guy Page

Substance abuse recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous have either been cancelled or else meet under more difficult “social distancing” conditions.

Vermont saw a spike in reported domestic violence after schools were closed statewide, but incidents have leveled off since then, Executive Director John Campbell of the VT State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs’ Department said. “It is the calm before the storm. We have to be prepared for that.”

For victims of domestic abuse, Covid-19 has played havoc with both fight and flight: seeking relief-from-abuse (RFA) orders, and staying at a battered women’s shelter.

For example, limited access to court offices during business hours means victims can no longer walk into a courtroom, talk with a clerk, fill out the paperwork, and swear an affidavit. They can still walk into the lobby, but must fill out paperwork on their own and drop it into a drop box. A court clerk will then contact the applicant and take their sworn affidavit over the phone. This process assumes the victim can read and write well enough, and has a phone. Not every victim does.

One plus is that the notarization requirement has been waived. Also, the after-hours RFA process, already in place, is working smoothly.

Access to battered women’s shelters are limited due to “social distancing requirements.” The same requirement reducing access to homeless shelters affects them as well, and the solution is the same: putting up victims in motel and hotel rooms. Police report that the established practice of separating people who are engaged in a domestic dispute has become problematic. For some people, there is simply nowhere else to go.

Counseling and other social work services are hampered by social distancing and office closures, Sarah Robinson of VT Network of Domestic Violence said. Physical and sexual abuse examiners are doing their best but the nature of the exam makes the job more difficult under new conditions. Telemedicine is playing a larger role.

Domestic violence offenders are not candidates for early release from the state prison system, Campbell said. Still, “some of the folks who are getting out and going back to stressful situations, we’re not sure how that’s going to work out,” he said.

Criminal courts are not immune from the Covid-19 threat. Caledonia County courthouse recently had to be closed and disinfected after a defendent loudly proclaimed he had Covid-19. In fact many inmates are claiming to have the virus. “We saw the same thing with the AIDS epidemic,” Sears observed.

To help solve these problems and keep at-risk Vermonters safer, Sullivan and D’Amora suggested two things: financial support for social service organizations, and streamlined regulations to help the helpers do their jobs.

During yesterday’s Senate session, Pro Tem Tim Ashe warned senators that from now on “We will have more people to keep safe, and fewer dollars to do it.” In a dismal fiscal situation that includes a likely $100+ million revenue shortfall, Judiciary learned today they will need significantly more money to protect and treat domestic abuse victims, detain and treat their perpetrators, and keep them apart.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

8 thoughts on “COVID-19 will mean more domestic abuse in Vermont; more funding needed

  1. As the saying goes…… “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” Another chance to raise taxes long term and of course plead for more money from the stimulus bill. It is never, I repeat never, acceptable for domestic abuse but it takes two to tango.

    In all states there is a high percentage of “false claims” being filed in domestic abuse cases. It causes suicides, loss of home and wealth, jail time, loss of family (children), being shunned by others/friends, loss of gun rights, etc. No one is willing to punish a person who files a false claim. Based on that I don’t think anyone really knows how prolific the real problem is or that it will actually get worse under the current situation.

    Just look at H.610 now in the House. Not a word, a peep, about filing charges against anyone who bears false witness against another. Charges and loss of gun rights is ex parte. You don’t get to face your accuser until after legal action has been taken against you. Most defendants don’t have the thousands of dollars it takes to hire an attorney to fight the charges.

    I think it is shameful to hear legislators greasing the skids that more money is needed to fight abuse during the onslaught of the Corona virus outbreak. It seems like in all other sectors the message is people are working together in historic ways to help each other deal with this tragedy.

    Another sad and partisan gambit from the left.

  2. If true then restricting or barring alcohol sales at this time would make sense. As a bonus it might even help people’s resistance to infection to cut back.

    Instead we are allowing alcohol to be ‘taken away’ along with take out food. This makes absolutely no sense when markets and liquor stores are still open. This seems to me to be a concession to VT’s booze distributors to keep sales up.

    In the meantime, responsible adult Vermonters who are either trying to quit smoking or stay quit with the use of far safer e-cigarettes can not even buy what they need online right now, thanks to the misguided and hysteria driven legislation that was pushed through.

    Common sense has nearly completely evaporated in this state.

  3. Shouldn’t there also be funding by the state (confiscation of money) to solve the long winter CABIN FEVER problem in VT. Confinement without “getting outside” can also contribute to a mental breakdown. Makes just as much sense.

  4. Money will not solve this problem, as usual it’s their only solution.

    When people lose their jobs…’s really stressful. When a couple works a restaurant and they can no longer pay any of their bills….it’s stressful.

    Then one coughs, the other things they are going to die from the corona virus and you’re in some crappy apartment that costs too darn much because we’ve made it illegal to build reasonable housing and yeah… got fights.

    Add on top of that kids’ home, not behaving, and you have to teach them a lesson plan, or do something but nobody can even leave the house!


    Money isn’t the answer, but of course it’s the only thing they know in Montpelier.

    We don’t need money, we need affordable homes, good jobs, good sc

  5. Since when is it the duty of the State, using our tax dollars, to protect people from their own poor choices and their free will?

    • With worse solutions, more expensive solutions all while lining their constituents pockets? Oh, that is the way our government has gone, follow the money they say.

      Who do you thing wrote the 900 page bill, that nor representative read, wrote or studied, yet the senate voted 96-0 in passing it?

      The “constituents”, aka the lobbyists, aka the people receiving all the MONEY! Pretty convenient when It works that way.

      Kinda like Planned Parenthood of Vermont. Now I’m not even taking a side on the issue, but look at the money trail.

      Many in Vermont office vote to Fund Planned Parenthood, this money goes to their PAC, this PAC money goes to fund everyone’s re-election if the vote 100% with the questionnaire that Planned Parenthood PAC sends you. I got one when I was running, you could get upto $3,000!

      Of course if you fill in the form as other and give explanations to your answers you get a 0%.
      I am very proud of my zero percent ratings…….exposed the corruption within this state.

  6. It’s interesting to note that as far as I can tell, the Vermont legislature is the only body to come up with this one. Strange?

  7. Well the could get creative and require marriage counseling before these characters get married. Obviously these didn’t know what they were doing when they said I Do.

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