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Crime

As domestic violence rises during the pandemic, groups get infusion of state cash

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Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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Two local groups are sharing $150,000 in state cash to help counter the rise in domestic violence cases during the pandemic.It wasn't a surprise to those involved in the field that things would get bad, as people were forced to hole up with spouses and children.

"We expected it to be horrible. We didn't expect what we got," said Family Justice Center CEO Mary Travers Murphy. "A 74% skyrocketing increase in our Safe Line hot line calls. It started last March, a year ago March. A 74% increase up to Monday of this week."

Speaking in Erie County's Tribute Garden at Isle View Park in Tonawanda, Travers Murphy said overall cases went from 3,000 to 4,000 since the pandemic began.

The center and University at Buffalo Law School's Family Violence & Women's Rights Clinic have been using online meetings with clients, electronic petitions for help from the courts and lots of work to counter the rise.

Law clinic Director Judith Olin said she supervises perhaps a dozen law students who help women facing domestic violence.

"Student attorneys are closely supervised by experienced attorneys and they get a whole plate of practical skills, which helps them hit the ground running when they enter the workforce," Olin said. "It's a win-win for clients and future attorneys who will one day be community leaders in the continuing fight against intimate partner violence."

Assemblymembers Karen McMahon (D-Amherst) and Pat Burke (D-Buffalo) said they put $100,000 into the state budget for the center and $50,000 for the law school clinic.

"As we've all become aware, the pandemic has brought to light many problems and inequities across all aspects of society, the workplace, the healthcare system, the criminal justice system," said McMahon. "During the pandemic, instances of domestic violence spiked dramatically as people were stressed by lockdowns, isolation and economic instability."

Travers Murphy said the state money means her agency can hire three more advocates for victims and ease the workload on current staff.

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