Home could be the most unsafe space for someone experiencing domestic or family violence. It’s a situation that has been intensified by the global pandemic. Survivors may feel like they are stuck, with nowhere to turn and nowhere to go.
Professor Jaya Connors and her students are navigating remote-court proceedings and connecting survivors to the information they need during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Deciding to leave is difficult and it’s dangerous for them. When you read in the newspaper about people who have been murdered by intimate partners, in many cases you’ll find there was domestic violence in that relationship, you’ll find the survivor had been trying to leave,” said Professor Connors, the director of the Family Violence Litigation Clinic within The Justice Center at Albany Law School. “Survivors know that leaving is a dangerous time and it needs to be planned. But under the current circumstances, leaving is going to be that much harder.”
Traditional avenues for safety and assistance—such as shelters, or a family or friend’s home—are operating differently or may be harder to access due to social distancing constraints.
“Now, comes the worry—am I going to harm others? Will others harm me? Will my children be harmed?” she said.
With that in mind, Professor Connors called upon her students to compile a resource guide for people who are experiencing—or have experienced—family violence or intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. They answered the call, authoring a question-and-answer guide that is available on Albany Law School’s website. The guide walks survivors through various steps and scenarios, helping them find services that are operating during the pandemic.
For her clinic students, Professor Connors says living and learning to be a lawyer during the “worst of times” will only make them stronger—and she’s impressed with and inspired by how they are handling change.
“When they meet with clients or the courts, they’re on Zoom, dressed well, appropriately, and professionally. They are not taking it for granted,” she said. “They know they are representing a client before a court of law and that shows in how they present themselves, even if it’s in front of a computer screen.”
Technology is a double-edged sword for domestic violence lawyers. While video conferencing allows essential matters to move forward, it’s not ideal, she said. Internet connectivity may be shaky, or the nuances of body language and other non-verbal courtroom cues are sometimes missing.
“I am happy we are where we are in terms of technology. If this had happened a decade or so ago, I don’t know what we would have done. We can continue to interview our clients,” Professor Connors said. “Having this technology has really helped court matters to move along. Things are moving forward—differently and a little more challenging—but they are moving forward.”
In New York State, essential court proceedings are still being heard. Matters such as orders of protection, temporary child support, or a family offense petition can still be filed and addressed.
Once restrictions are loosened, Professor Connors expects courts to be busier than ever.
“The courts are going to be inundated with clients. That’s my feeling. Anyone who has been waiting to seek services, legal response from the court, the courts [may see],” she said. “These times don’t make things easier for people, it causes more stress. More strife.”
Guide: Intimate Partner Violence/Domestic Violence Q&A