In periods of isolation, whether it be holidays or other times when people are in close quarters, domestic violence and other incidents of abuse tend to rise, according to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.


So with residents staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, it would be anticipated that reports of violence and subsequent arrests would rise — but data collected by law enforcement shows the opposite is happening.


In the first week of March, statewide, 469 arrests were reported for domestic violence — up from 429 the previous year — but in the month of April, those arrests have plummeted, according to data compiled by the Office of the Attorney General and the State Police.


But that doesn’t mean abuse is suddenly not happening, Grewal said, it means that fewer people are reporting abuse.


“We are acutely aware the same isolation helping us flatten the curve and slow the spread of this pandemic also creates an ideal situation for an abuser to continue their abuse of an intimate partner or child,” Grewal said.


In early March, efforts were made to make sure victims of abuse had a local police station to go to or an abuse hotline to call, with agencies continuing to function virtually during the pandemic.


But according to the data, those efforts weren’t enough, Grewal said.


During the first of four virtual town hall meetings held Wednesday, Grewal and four expert panelists were joined by nearly 400 members of the public as they spoke of ways in which survivors and victims of abuse can seek help.


“We are here for you, you are not alone,” said Pam Jacobs, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “There is always someone to talk to.”


Jacobs’ sentiments echoed throughout the roughly 90-minute meeting, with Jacobs noting that programs remain active in each county, including Sussex, with advocates available 24/7.


“I know it’s a scary call to make, but there are safe spaces available, and those spaces are following all distancing guidelines,” Jacobs said.


Jamie Bernard, executive director of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Intervention Services, or DASI, issued a statement saying that the DASI 24-hour hotline remains functional along with a safe house, that is thoroughly sanitized, for those in need.


“During this challenging time, individuals and families may be trapped in abusive, even dangerous situations. If you need help helping someone, please reach out to us,” she wrote.


Jacobs echoed those thoughts, stating in the virtual town hall that with the coronavirus forcing many to be home, those in fear should try to find a way to leave the home, whether it be to go to the grocery store or pick up a medication.


And reaching out to an advocate doesn’t mean it needs to be reported to law enforcement nor does the victim’s name need to be divulged, Jacobs said, it could just be “to talk to someone about what is going on.”


Isolation, Jacobs said, may be harmful not only for those being abused but for those who have been abused in the past. The isolation can be a trigger, bringing up emotions and fear, so it is vital to reach out for help.


Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, noted that during a survey in 2019 of all service providers throughout the state, only 5% provided virtual services. Now in response to COVID-19, 100% of them have shifted to virtual counseling, she said.


Elizabeth Ruebman, special advisor for victims services in the state Attorney General’s Office, spoke of the Victims of Crime Compensation Office, which remains active virtually. The state-run office provides financial compensation for some of the expenses victims and their families incur as a result of a violent crime.


County prosecutor’s offices continue to function as do the state Superior Courts, with detention hearings for those arrested, judge’s taking pleas and drug courts continuing in a virtual setting.


“People are being held accountable,” Grewal pledged.


For those wanting to find help for an abused friend or family member, Teffenhart, who noted that “community crisis compounds trauma,” said it’s best to relay to them the following: “I’m sorry that happened to you.”


“It’s a non-probing response and gives them the opportunity to take the lead, and say anything they are comfortable saying,” she said. After several conversations, the concerned friend or family member may be able to direct them to the services available to them.


Several flyers with information on where to seek services will be placed throughout various places, Grewal said, where victims may traverse during the pandemic.


Wednesday’s town hall is the first in a series called “21 County, 21st Century Community Policing,” that was planned in April 2019. While initially meant to be held in-person, Grewal chose to move the series to a virtual setting, allowing members of the public to answer questions during the session.


On April 30, Grewal will be joined by several panelists, including State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan, to address law enforcement’s response to COVID-19. To register, visit: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6908093425223058444.


Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.