Chirlane McCray speaks onstage during the We Stand United NYC Rally outside Trump International Hotel & Tower on Jan. 19, 2017, in New York City.
Photo: D Dipasupil (Getty Images)

Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York City, is working to close the gap in support for the majority of domestic violence victims in the city whose abuse goes unreported to law enforcement. On Wednesday McCray, who is also co-chair of the city’s Domestic Violence Task Force and the Commission on Gender Equity, announced the Interrupting Violence at Home initiative, “a groundbreaking city initiative to intervene and reduce domestic violence.”

Understanding that most incidents of domestic violence are not reported to the authorities, New York City is investing $3.3 million in research-based intervention models to address abuse where it starts: with the abuser. It is the first model of its kind in the United States, with the mission and capacity to affect the lives of 1,600 residents across the city’s five boroughs.

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According to a press release, this new initiative is “designed to work with abusive partners who have not been involved in the criminal justice system to impact behavior change, reduce future abuse and enhance survivor safety” through services, training and intervention:

In New York City, between 2010 and 2016, the NYPD had previous contact with the victim and the offender in only 39 percent of the intimate partner homicides. A key focus of the Interrupting Violence at Home program will be creating a baseline of information regarding the identification, engagement and intervention of abusive partners outside of the criminal justice system. This information is critical in order to continue to drive down domestic violence incidents and enhance accountability for the abusive partners as well as survivor safety.

A 2017 report from the New York City Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee (pdf) found that there was a 22 percent increase in family-related homicides between 2015 and 2016, rising from 49 to 63 fatalities across the five boroughs. Over half (60.3 percent) of those 63 homicides involved an intimate partner. The report also found that the majority of victims were women (61.1 percent), and that black women were victims of intimate-partner homicides at three times the rate of the rest of New York City, a statistic consistent with the national average.

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Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed new legislation requiring convicted domestic abusers to surrender all firearms and prohibiting them from obtaining licenses to purchase them legally. McCray’s initiative takes an even more proactive approach and is designed to reach and reform abusers who have yet to be identified by the criminal-justice system. Said McCray at the announcement:

Any kind of violence is unacceptable. But as we keep survivors and families safe, we must also do everything we can to intervene directly with their abusive partners. One of the tragic truths underlying domestic violence is that many offenders have themselves been victims of violence and abuse. Hurt people hurt people. But with this program, we will employ new methods of intervening, long before a call to 911.

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It’s work that builds upon another McCray initiative, the February launch of New York City’s first-ever web-based portal, NYC Hope, “dedicated to providing resources to survivors and information to all city residents about how to help someone experiencing domestic violence.” The portal was launched in conjunction with the city’s We Understand campaign, its first domestic violence awareness campaign in more than a decade.

As outlined by the city’s press release, the Interrupting Violence initiative was formed through collaboration with multiple “local experts, providers, advocates and survivors,” in particular the Coalition on Working with Abusive Partners and the Interagency Working Group on Abusive Partner Interventions. It will attempt to address the epidemic of domestic violence from multiple angles:

  • Create the first city-funded community-based program for abusive partners who are not involved in the criminal-justice system. This groundbreaking trauma-informed program will be culturally and linguistically specific and will focus on both community and family accountability.
  • Create the first city-funded trauma-informed and culturally competent accountability program for teens who have demonstrated unhealthy relationships with intimate partners and/or family members. The program will create safe, age-appropriate environments for youths that focus on behaviors such as impulse control and emotion management.
  • Incorporate domestic violence coordinators at city Crisis Management System sites to enhance the identification and response to domestic violence in communities served by CMS sites. The rate of domestic-violence-related calls to the New York City Police Department in the CMS precincts is 2.3 times higher than in the rest of the city.
  • Work with an expert consultant to develop a blueprint for implementing restorative-justice practices in community-based models to address domestic violence in the city.
  • Develop a specialized training curriculum to provide tools for city agency staff working with offender populations to help them understand offender risk factors, identify high levels of risk and gain skills to engage with abusive partners.

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Cecile Noel, New York City’s commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, says:

Interrupting violence at home is a groundbreaking addition to the services New York City provides to families impacted by domestic violence. This program will provide trauma-informed, non-criminal-justice, community-based options for abusers that hold them accountable. With this initiative, New York City continues to position itself as a leader on best practices in domestic violence services and programming.

 The Glow Up tip: The New York City Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24-7 at 800-621-HOPE (4673) and provides safety planning, referrals and connections to emergency housing for victims of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 800-799-SAFE (7233).