Domestic Violence in New York

last updated July 2012

New York has taken significant efforts to reduce violence against women. In 1976, the state opened its first domestic violence shelter in New York City (NYC). Subsequently, the state created the New York State (NYS) Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence in 1979. In 1983, The Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence replaced the task force. Four years later, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 1987 passed and theOffice for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) was formed in 1992— this notably predates its federal counterpart, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. The OPDV has been instrumental in working with both the legislature and the judiciary to effectively respond to and prevent domestic violence in the state.

“Victim of Domestic Violence” is defined by the Domestic Violence Prevention Act as follows:
Any person over the age of sixteen, any married person or any parent accompanied by his or her minor child or children in situations in which such person or such person's child is a victim of an act which would constitute a violation of the penal law, including, but not limited to acts constituting disorderly conduct, harassment, menacing, reckless endangerment, kidnapping, assault, attempted assault, or attempted murder; and (i) such act or acts have resulted in actual physical or emotional injury or have created a substantial risk of physical or emotional harm to such person or such person's child; and (ii) such act or acts are or are alleged to have been committed by a family or household member.
 
New York law, N.Y. Social Services Law § 459-A(1), further defines “family or household member” as follows:
(a) persons related by consanguinity or affinity;
(b) persons legally married to one another;
(c) persons formerly married to one another regardless of whether they still reside in the same household;
(d) persons who have a child in common regardless of whether such persons are married or have lived together at any time;
(e) unrelated persons who are continually or at regular intervals living in the same household or who have in the past continually or at regular intervals lived in the same household; or
(f) any other category of individuals deemed to be a victim of domestic violence as defined by the department in regulation.
 
Model Domestic Violence Policy for Counties
A major problem for many states in addressing and curbing domestic violence is the natural disconnect that exists between counties. New York overcame this barrier in 1998 by creating its Model Domestic Violence Policy for Counties. The policy was distributed to domestic violence service providers along with county executives, judges, district attorneys’ offices, social services, and local departments of health—this innovative integration of policy recommendations ensured that the best policies, practices and procedures were used statewideSeeDrafting Laws on Domestic ViolenceStopVAW.
 
Integrated Domestic Violence Courts
The court system recognized that domestic violence involves both civil and criminal matters and often required appearances before several different courts. To alleviate this burden, the Integrated Domestic Violence Court(IDVC) was created in 2001 and allowed the same judge to hear both domestic violence criminal cases and related family law matters. Today the state has 46 IDVCs which, combined, assisted in more than 17,300 new cases in 2010 alone. SeeSpecialized Domestic Violence Court SystemsStopVAW.
 
Felony Stalking Provisions
In 1999, the state also passed a Felony Stalking Law. Penal Law §§ 120.55 and 120.60 elevate a stalking offense from a misdemeanor to a felony for certain repeat offenders, for those who possessed a firearm, and for those who place people under the age of 14 in reasonable fear of injury.
 
Firearms in Domestic Violence Cases
New York law requires that the court take away an abuser’s firearms if certain conditions are met. If the abuser caused serious injury, used or threatened to use weapons, or committed another violent felony offense, thecourt is required to take away the abuser's guns. Conversely, if the court thinks that an abuser may use a firearm against the abused party in the future, the court has discretion to take away firearms.
 
In addition, federal law prohibits firearm sales to individuals that have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. In 2011, New York State passed new domestic violence firearm protection legislation, which harmonizes state law with this federal regulation. The new law requires courts to determine if a specific domestic violence misdemeanor is related to the federal domestic violence statute. If so, the perpetrator’s information must be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
 
Custody in Domestic Violence Cases
New York’s Domestic Relations Law § 240 requires the court to check reports in the sex offender registry, reports of the statewide registry of orders of protection, and any Article 10 decisions on child abuse before issuing custody or visitation decisions. The law further provides that when allegations of domestic violence surface, the court is required to consider such allegations when determining what custody arrangements are in the best interest of the child. Furthermore, the court cannot grant custody to a parent who presents a substantial risk of harm to a child. This often precludes the court from awarding custody of a child to an abuser or perpetrator of domestic violence. In accordance with the Omnibus Domestic Violence Bill passed in 2009, judges must state on the record how domestic violence factored into custody and visitation decisions.   
 
Domestic Violence Orders of Protection
In domestic violence cases, many statutes, including Criminal Procedure Law § 530.13, Domestic Relations Law § 240, and Family Court Act § 842, authorize the court to issue order of protections. Such orders prohibit an alleged abuser from contacting the party alleging the abuse prior to the hearing. Furthermore, orders for protection are not limited to family members; while an order for protection against a family member, co-parent, or intimate partner typically issues from family court, an identical remedy exists through the criminal court when an abused party is not related to her abuser. In 2010, Family Court Act §842 was amended to authorize Family Courts to extend existing orders of protection for “a reasonable period of time.” Absence of abuse during the initial protection period does not qualify as a sufficient reason for not extending an order or protection. Orders for protection are commonly issued by Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, described above.
 
Dating Violence
Dating violence is a serious problem nationwide and is on the rise in New York. In a 2008 survey of teen-age girls in New York City, 10.6% reported physical dating violence, up nearly 50% since 1999. This statistic illustrates the severity of the problem and the need for the state to continue its proactive approach to curbing domestic violence.
 
The Batterer Intervention Project
Another innovative approach to eliminating domestic violence is New York’s Batterer Intervention Project. N.Y. Executive Law § 576. The project, which began in 1992, promotes offender accountability and challenges the historical precedent that accepted men controlling their female partners. The project monitors men referred by the court and holds them accountable for their actions—this is just one of a series of graduated sanctions for domestic violence crimes. SeeBatterer’s Intervention ProgramsStopVAW.
 
Confidentiality
In 2012, New York State enacted an address confidentiality program for domestic violence victims, which enables them to send and receive mail through the Secretary of State. In addition, Public Service Law §91(7) requires phone service companies to provide unlisted telephone numbers free of charge to domestic violence victims who have a permanent order of protection. Two statutes passed in 2010 allow for confidential voter registration records and special absentee ballots for victims of domestic violence.
 
Employment
Domestic violence victims are recognized as a protected class under the employment provisions of New York State’s human rights law. Employers are prohibited from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating in compensation based on an individual’s status as a domestic violence victim.  In addition, New York State offers unemployment benefits to survivors of domestic violence who have to quit or are fired from their job because of domestic violence
 
Social Services
In addition to taking steps to prevent domestic violence, New York also provides a variety of social services to the victims of such violence. N.Y. Social Services Law § 131-U explicitly requires the state to provide emergency shelters and other necessities for individuals and families that are in need. Furthermore, N.Y. Social Services Law § 459-C requires the state to provide numerous non-residential services to the victims of domestic violence: information and referral services, advocacy, counseling, community education and outreach activities, and hotline services. Notably, these services are provided regardless of a victim's eligibility for public assistance.
 
The New York State Domestic Violence Dashboard Project reported that as of 2010, the state had at least 3,033 beds, 9 transitional housing programs with 700 beds, and 5 safe home networks with 32 safe homes. That same year, New York City’s Domestic Violence hotline received 119,177 calls, a 13% decrease from 2009. New York State has two primary Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotlines. Together, the Hotlines received over 14,000 calls in 2010.
 
The Project also monitors the use of domestic violence shelters. In 2010, over 15,000 people received emergency shelter through New York State’s 165 certified shelter programs.  More than half of the people served in emergency shelters in New York State in 2010 were children, with 7,133 adults and 8,437 children housed.
 
In 1998, the legislature enacted a new program called Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE). By registering online or by calling 1-888-846-3469, victims can research crime and release data on all prison inmates in the system. This provides an added layer of protection to ensure that past victims are safe when offenders are released from incarceration.
 
Despite New York’s efforts, domestic violence remains a serious problem. In 2001-2002 alone, approximately 450,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported and the state suggests that the actual number of incidents that occurred may have exceeded 900,000. In 2010, Domestic Violence Courts and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts handled over 55,000 cases. That same year, New York State courts issued 301,488 orders of protection. SeeVictim Protection, Support and AssistanceStopVAW.