Domestic violence programs in New Jersey have not yet seen the surge in demand for services they had anticipated in response to self-quarantining and stay-at-home orders connected to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

And that is disturbing, rather than a relief, program leaders say.

The mindset is, violence will escalate in times like these when couples are essentially encouraged to stay indoors 24/7, especially if at the same time an abuser or potential abuser is losing control over other areas of their lives, such as work and play.

"Someone who already feels like they have a right to have power over their partner — this can make their behavior worse," said Pamela Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

But a quick survey of programs, conducted by Patricia Hart, executive director of Womanspace, found calls for help have not increased when compared to normal activity in the Garden State.

"For us, that's a big concern," Hart said. "If they're quiet and not calling, our fear is things are happening that they can't do anything about, and can't reach out during a crisis."

With more establishments closing their doors for the time being, including offices and libraries, victims of violence may be lacking a safe space from which they can make a phone call or send an email — a call from the car may not even be possible.

"A lot of the feeling among my fellow executive directors is that it's the calm before the storm, so that's what we're prepared for," Hart said.

The statewide domestic violence hotline can be reached at 1-800-572-SAFE (7233). It can help direct callers to the resources closest to them, or just act as an ear to listen — not everyone who calls intends to leave their current situation.

"Absolutely what we want people to know is that domestic violence programs are completely still open and running and available to offer support and help," Jacobs said.

Helplines are also open to individuals who feel the current situation may lead them to exhibit abuse behavior in the home, Jacobs noted.

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