NJ domestic violence center reports ‘staggering’ increase in demand
Running since 1976 as a resource for victims of domestic violence, Center for Hope & Safety has never seen numbers like what's been recorded for 2022.
The Bergen County-based group suggests the "staggering" numbers not only point to an increase in domestic abuse, but also greater willingness by victims to reach out for help.
"It is just a call between the person who chooses to make that call, and one of our trained counselors — to either get a piece of advice, be connected to an attorney, or, if they wish to do so, come to our safe house," said Julye Myner, executive director of CHS.
In all, the nonprofit served 1,719 adults and children in 2022, representing a 91% increase from the yearly average 10 years ago.
Their free, 24/7 hotline handled 80% more calls last year compared to 2021. Compared to the 10-year average of 179, CHS sheltered 373 adults and children in 2022. The need for legal services increased by 44% from 2021 to 2022.
Agencies in New Jersey and elsewhere are seeing increased demand from survivors of domestic abuse, Myner said. Much of the recent trend is likely still related to the COVID-19 pandemic, she suggested.
"Now I suspect that the victims are regaining employment, getting more stable, and ready to leave an abusive situation," Myner said. "And we know with the pandemic there was an increase in gun sales. I suspect that many victims felt that threat."
Myner also attributes the spike in demand to increased awareness of available, confidential resources.
"There's a lot of guilt and shame associated with not leaving an abusive situation," Myner said. "We really respect the caller as to what services they would like to receive from us. And the choice to leave is completely theirs with no judgment whatsoever."
A few months into 2023, the number of calls to CHS has appeared to level off, Myner said.
Each county in New Jersey has a lead domestic violence organization. Myner said groups need "strong governmental support," including financial resources, to continue to adequately meet the needs of victims and their families.