By Ariama C. Long
Governor Kathy Hochul issued a proclamation that October marks the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a deadly issue in the city and nationwide that disproportionately impacts women and women of color. In New York City, local initiatives are trying to turn the tide on this issue.
“Unfortunately the Bronx leads the city of New York in the highest number of DV cases and DV homicides to date and that’s not unacceptable,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, who announced a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women to improve criminal justice responses to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in the Bronx.
NYPD’s 2021 Domestic Violence Report stated that for the last five years, 8 out of 15 community boards with the highest rates of intimate partner homicides citywide were from the Bronx.
Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) state that domestic violence in the Black and brown community is rooted in systemic racism, racist policies, and racist societal structures.
Coburn Place, an anti-domestic violence group in Indianapolis, reached out to Black women to get their side of experiences in domestic violence cases. They compiled stories that said Black women survivors are not believed as much as other groups, are afraid of being involved in the justice system in any way, and don’t want their partner to interact with law enforcement out of a genuine fear that the police will kill or shoot them.
NCADV said that 45% of Black women and 40% of Black men experience intimate partner violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes, a disproportionately high rate. NCADV stats estimate that 51.3% of Black adult female homicides are related to intimate partner violence, and about 57% of Black women homicide victims were murdered with the use of a gun between 2003-2014.
“We had a transit cop that was fatally stabbed by her estranged husband a couple of months ago, and we had a mom and a 6-year-old killed by their boyfriend and stepfather. These things are happening constantly and as a borough we have to do more,” said Gibson.
The brutal stabbing of Officer Arianna Reyes-Gomez, 31, occurred in Melrose on June 14 earlier this year, reported ABC. Reyes-Gomez’s estranged husband, Argenis Baez, 33, stabbed her to death while she was off-duty and was charged with second degree murder, first degree manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon. There were no prior domestic calls from this couple.
Bronx Community Boards 3 and 6 combined showed 17 intimate partner homicides in neighborhoods that include Claremont, Crotona Park, Melrose, Morrisania, Bathgate, and Belmont.
Gibson partnered with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and advocates to announce the Domestic Violence Advisory Council on Oct. 1 for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The advisory council includes community groups, social services, cops, survivor groups, first responders, and healthcare providers that are pooling resources to make it easier for victims to seek and receive help, said Gibson. She said that sometimes people can be “retraumatized” just telling their story, so the advisory council encourages empathy from law enforcement. The advisory council is also adamant about protecting survivors’ identities.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said that domestic violence is one of the most challenging crimes to address and it is critical that the voices of victims and survivors of domestic and gender-based violence be heard.
“I want people to know that we are here to help and love should never hurt. You do not need to be a victim of your circumstances, you can be a victor,” said Gibson. “There is life after you come forward.”
In other boroughs, community groups are doing the crucial work of keeping the spotlight on domestic violence year round. In Harlem this month, WARM, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence, is organizing a ‘Love on the Block’ series of block parties and virtual workshops with a life coach to empower women and boost their self esteem. They’re capping the programming with a huge women’s march for domestic violence victims and awareness on the issue on Thursday, Oct. 27.
WARM founder Stephanie McGraw, who also is a survivor of domestic violence herself, said that domestic violence is a “silent nationwide public health crisis” that isn’t being taken nearly as seriously as it should be because it primarily affects women, Black and brown women in particular.
“Black and brown women are still disregarded, disrespected and unprotected,” said McGraw. “White women have a different experience than a Black woman’s so we have some work to do. Still a hidden killer.”
McGraw recalls the death of young mom Azsia Johnson, 20, who was shot in the head at point-blank range in Manhattan in June. Johnson’s mother told police she was a victim of domestic violence and that she feared for her daughter’s life. Johnson had filed in January 2021 reports of abuse and eventually ended up in a domestic violence shelter with her son when the shooting occurred. Though Johnson’s mother was convinced the father of her child and abuser was responsible, he was not immediately a suspect, according to news outlets.
“Our state has come a long way since the days when my mother advocated for the survivors of domestic violence, but there is still much work to be done in helping to put an end to the abuse and suffering that far too many New Yorkers have endured over the years,” said Hochul in a statement. “Throughout October, we are reminded of the need to continue evolving our approach to domestic and gender-based violence so that we can best meet the needs of survivors and their families.”
Additionally, state statistics from the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence said that over 165,000 domestic violence orders of protection were issued in New York State in 2020. The numbers also show that the COVID-19 pandemic “exacerbated domestic violence problems.”
Kim Gandy, former CEO of the National Action Network to End Domestic Violence, said that no one is immune from domestic violence. Gandy said it’s not just one incident but a pattern of behavior and abuse to gain power and control over another person, which is not always just physical abuse. Gandy said that COVID definitely was a difficult time for domestic violence survivors because of job losses.
“COVID related job losses made it harder than ever to leave an abusive partner and live independently. If you don’t have a job and resources, you can feel trapped,” said Gandy.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w