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COVID-19 and Its Impact on Domestic Violence in New Jersey–a Conversation with Trish Perlmutter, Esq.

When you think about it, it should come as no surprise that the prevalence and severity of domestic violence cases in New Jersey have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Has the pandemic made the daily tasks of living, working and raising children, among other things, easier for anyone? 

Job loss (and it’s ugly cousin, reduction in household income), homebound parents and children, and forced home-schooling for children are significant stressors that can cause fissures in any family. It’s no wonder NJ has witnessed a significant rise in the number of domestic violence cases, especially among low-income families.

Even before Covid-19, the statistics around domestic violence, both nationally and from NJ, were staggering: 

  1. In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence. 
  2. In NJ, one act of domestic violence occurs every 8 minutes and 29 seconds.3.
  3. Nationally, partner violence accounted for 20% of all violent crimes in 2019. During this same year, in NJ over one-quarter of all criminal complaints were domestic violence cases. (That does not take into account the tens of thousands of civil cases each year.) 4.
  4. On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive over 19,000 calls.5,
  5. Sadly, children are involved or present during 28% of all domestic violence offenses.

Notably, legal assistance is one of the most requested services by domestic violence victims. 

Enter Partners for Women and Justice (pfwj.org), a not-for-profit “law firm” of sorts, located in Northern New Jersey. Staff attorneys, combined with a significant number of private practice lawyers, provide pro-bono legal services to help low-income domestic violence victims navigate the legal system. 

Since Covid-19, Partners has experienced a significant uptick in the number of victims reaching out for their services.  In an effort to understand this rise in cases, Partners, with Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice, and with the support of Newark, NJ-based law firm, McCarter & English, released a report they authored that examines the possible causes for this increase.s, as well as, They also document the responses of state and social services agencies. The report demonstrates the pandemic has increased the rates of domestic violence in NJ by magnifying and multiplying the obstacles for victims seeking to escape abusive relationships. 

Trish Perlmutter, a public-interest lawyer and former law professor, is Policy Counsel for Partners. She participated in producing the report and is one of Partners’ primary spokespersons. Recently, she joined me in conversation to discuss the reports’ findings and recommendations, and their significance for NJ. 

We also chat about:

  • The differences between civil vs. criminal complaints in domestic violence cases.
  • Why a victim of violence might prefer to file a non-criminal complaint against their abuser.
  • Protective orders and why they are so important for a victim’s safety.
  • The importance of legal representation in domestic violence cases, and why a victim represented by an attorney is 10 times more likely to obtain a protective order than a victim without an attorney.
  • How the economic impacts of Covid-19 have magnified the dangerous combination of poverty and domestic violence, especially for victims of color.
  • The new ways perpetrators are using power and control tactics to prevent victims from seeking help.
  • The four essential actions outlined in the report that NJ lawmakers and government officials should take to continue to promote safety for victims and their children during the pandemic and beyond.

   And so much more… 


According to Trish, “The results of this report echo what we were seeing in many of Partners’ cases that victims of domestic violence from marginalized communities are in a vise, enduring job losses, unaffordable housing, and hunger brought on by Covid-19.” 

“Finding a path to safety,” she continues, “ has become extremely difficult in light of these challenges combined with constant surveillance by controlling partners and fear of contagion.” 

“There is a tendency,” Trish stressed, “to downplay the importance of domestic violence cases in our society; however, a look at the data underscores why we as a society must grapple with domestic violence if we want to reform policing, reduce incarceration, and promote anti-violence policies.”


You can find info about the report, Partners for Women and Justice and how to support Partners and their mission at the website