Be Safe From COVID-19 And Domestic Violence

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Many of us are using the stay-at-home time to catch up on household projects, start a fitness program, read a book or just play games with our kids. COVID-19 has compelled many of us to slow down, take a shallow breath and appreciate the quieter things in life.

For some, though, staying at home is intimidating. As Facebook posts remind us, check on the extroverts in your lives. Not everyone is emotionally equipped to spend long periods without extensive and varied social interaction. Anne Frank and seven other people stayed in a 450-square-foot attic for 761 days, and we can all agree that situation was far from ideal.

For some, the deleterious effects of staying home may extend far past cabin fever. All of us are affected emotionally by COVID-19, by the stress of not knowing how long or how severe the pandemic will be, by financial concerns worsened by the loss of a job or income, by worry over elderly or vulnerable friends and family, etc. For persons in abusive relationships, however, these additional stresses can tip the already unsteady balance into further abuse.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, and one in four women and one in nine men will experience severe forms of such violence. In the last few months, Maryland courts have heard approximately 2,000 protective order cases and 800 to 1,000 peace order cases per month. Protective orders protect persons in intimate or family relationships and can order that an abuser stay away from the victim, vacate the family home, lose custody of minor children, and financially support the victim and any children, etc. Peace orders protect persons not in an intimate or familial relationship, such as a neighbor or friend, and typically order that the abuser stay away.

Despite the shortened legislative session this year, two bills buttressing protective orders and peace orders passed. House Bill 248/Senate Bill 210 clarifies that rape and sexual offenses are bases for obtaining a protective order rather than a peace order. The relief available within a protective order is greater and more expansive than that of a peace order. HB250/SB227 requires that protective and peace orders remain in effect until a timely filed motion to extend them is heard. Final protective orders last one year, and final peace orders can last up to six months, and both can be extended another six months if good cause exists. This bill fills in the potential gap between when an order expires and when a motion to extend is heard. I voted for both of these bills in committee and on the House floor.

Despite the lockdown, lots of information and help remains available for victims of domestic violence and other abuse. Advocates are available 24/7 at National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by chat. All calls are free and confidential. More locally, YWCA offices in Arnold and Glen Burnie are currently closed, but their hotline at 410-222-6800 is open, and other help may be available. As an essential service, many attorneys remain available by phone or email. While Maryland courts are largely closed, they are hearing emergency matters like protective and peace orders, and, if the courthouse is closed, interim protective orders are available through the commissioner's office in both district courthouses in Glen Burnie and Annapolis. Forms for obtaining a protective and peace order, as well as other pertinent information, are available online at www.courts.state.md.us/legalhelp/domesticviolence.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

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