Last year in New Jersey, law enforcement officials responded to more than 60,000 domestic violence incidents.

A program was launched decades ago to offer help to victims in these situations. New Jersey’s domestic violence response team pilot program began in 1997 and it was soon formally adopted statewide.

“Based on the success of that program in New Jersey, every single local municipal law enforcement agency as well as State Police have access to a team of trained domestic violence response team advocates,” said Nicole Morella, the director of public policy and communications for the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

She explained these are volunteers who are available on call to respond to police headquarters, usually after there has been an incident of domestic violence that a law enforcement agency has responded to.

Morella said the idea is to “provide victims with information, opportunities for crisis intervention support, safety planning, the goal being that they are able to make more informed decisions about their safety, available resources and rights they have.”

She explained larger towns and cities in New Jersey have their own response teams, while parts of the state that are more rural and less populated may have one team that will cover multiple towns.

She said many times “somebody has been in an abusive relation—ship for a long period of time where it started off with verbal abuse and has escalated gradually over time and, unfortunately, has turned physical.”

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN NJ

State Police's 2015 domestic violence report, the most recent year for which data is available:

■ 61,659 domestic violence offenses reported by the police in 2015, a 1 percent decrease from 2014.

■ Murders increased 16 percent in 2015 (49)

■ Assaults accounted for 43 percent (26,413) and harassment accounted for 43 percent (26,338)

■ Arrests were made in 31 percent (19,212) of the offenses

■ Females were victims in 74 percent (45,778) of cases

■ Children involved or present during 28 percent of cases

■ 10,484 complaints had prior court orders issued against the offender

■ Alcohol accounted for 22 percent (13,829) of cases. Other drugs were another 3 percent of cases

■ The most frequent day of domestic violence occurrences was Sunday

■ Most frequent hours of domestic violence incidents were between 8 p.m. and midnight

Victims are sometimes confused about how to proceed because their situations are “not quite at physically violent and dangerous stages.”

She said some survivors are hesitant to press charges against a defendant but still may be in danger and need resources, so the advocates are able to provide confidential support that’s separate from the law enforcement process.

“They can talk more frankly with the victim survivors, help them identify what does the pattern of behaviors and that abuse and control look like in that relationship, and then help them carve out a safety plan.”

Is there more domestic violence now than there used to be?

She noted last year domestic violence advocates on response teams responded to 6,300 calls from police departments, but that’s only really the tip of the iceberg, “because more than 90,000 domestic violence hotline calls were received in 2016.”

“We don’t see this is necessarily getting worse but we certainly have much more that we need to do to help prevent it from continuing,” she said.

She explained the definition of domestic violence in New Jersey is fairly broad.

“It doesn’t just include intimate partners but it also includes family relationships, individuals who have shared households, so sometimes we will see cases where it’s an adult child who’s been abusive to a parent, or two siblings who have been abusive to one another,” she said.

Morella added, “We do see not just male perpetrators against female victims, but we do see male victims in this program, same-sex relationships, we definitely get a large variety of experiences and different circumstances at play."

She said for more information or to talk about a situation you may call the domestic violence hotline.

“That’s at 1-800-572-SAFE, and that’s at 800-572-7233.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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