Domestic violence deaths are rising in NYC, especially among women of color

Women of color are dying at the hands of their intimate partners at an increasing rate in New York City, according to city statistics and organizations that work with domestic violence survivors.

Murders sparked by domestic altercations increased almost 30% in the one-year period between 2021 and 2022, a 2023 report by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence found. By comparison, NYPD data shows that homicides decreased 11% citywide that year.

It’s the city’s second-largest increase in intimate partner fatality rates in a decade, and things don’t seem to be improving. At least 73 domestic violence-related homicides were recorded in 2023, a slight uptick from the previous year.

Domestic violence tends not to get as much attention as other crimes due to its private nature and survivors’ reticence to make reports. As Gothamist has previously reported, neighbors are often reluctant to get involved even when they hear unmistakable violence in their neighbors’ homes.

“When you hear the mayor talk about crime going down, that’s good,” said the nonprofit Urban Resource Institute‘s CEO Nathaniel Fields, who helped produce the report. “I think we also want the mayor to say ‘but it hasn’t been the case for all populations’ and to talk more about domestic violence to increase awareness of this.”

Women of color in underserved communities are disproportionately vulnerable to domestic violence, according to the report. Between 2021 and 2022, intimate partner homicides increased from four to 13 in Brooklyn and from seven to 11 in the Bronx, which reported the highest average of domestic violence homicides in the city.

Black women accounted for 31.2% of all intimate partner homicides despite making up only 13% of the city’s population. Meanwhile, Hispanic women accounted for 27.3% of such killings despite making up only 14.6% of the city’s population.

One of the slain women was Saida Bonilla Mejia, 40, who police said was killed around 5 a.m. on Feb. 10 in her Bronx apartment when her boyfriend, Rosvin Mejia Castillo, shot her after an argument.

Bonilla, who was originally from Honduras, was pronounced dead at Jacobi Hospital. Mejia Castillo was arrested hours after the incident.

Saida Bonilla Mejia was killed on Feb. 10 in her Bronx apartment, police said. She was 40.

Courtesy of Bonilla Mejia’s family

But police said Bonilla wasn’t the shooting’s only victim. Two nephews who were staying at her house while their family was in the process of moving were injured by stray bullets.

Bonilla’s cousin Yoisy Vallesteros said she didn’t know how bad the situation was. “She only ever told me that he was really jealous, and he didn’t want her to go out,” Vallesteros recalled in Spanish. Her own son was one of the two children injured.

She only ever told me that he was really jealous, and he didn’t want her to go out.

Yoisy Vallesteros, cousin of domestic violence homicide victim Saida Bonilla Mejia

Domestic violence survivors, especially in under-resourced communities, said the decision to leave an abusive partner can be complicated by fears of homelessness and city shelters.

“You think shelter, you think of, like, a big open space, no privacy,” said domestic violence survivor Elizabeth Rose, who left an abusive relationship in 2019. She added that because of the stigma, “it took me six whole months to even officially make the call to begin the process.”

After a brief stint in an emergency shelter, Rose moved to a room at Harmony House, a long-term facility in the Bronx that is run by the Urban Resource Institute.

It was nothing like what she expected. She said she had plenty of space for herself and her daughter, and there were programs for the kids, movie nights, field trips and opportunities to make new friends.

Thanks to URI’s PALS program, which allows survivors to live alongside their pets in specially designed apartments, Rose was able to bring her beloved cat, Bebe.

“I had a whole kitchen, a whole dining area where I started baking,” she said. “I really found family within the building on all different floors with different types of people. And we all helped each other, too.”

I really found family within the building on all different floors with different types of people.

Elizabeth Rose, a woman who stayed at Urban Resource Institute’s Harmony House facility

URI is funded mostly by the city and state governments and has been around for more than four decades, working to break the cycles of gender-based violence and homelessness. The organization provides shelter to almost 3,000 individuals every night across 15 transitional shelters across New York City and offers resources such as therapy and connections to permanent housing.

With the surge in domestic violence-related homicides, Fields, the CEO, said the nonprofit is working particularly hard to connect surviving women to housing and other resources and expand prevention programs in the communities that have reported the most incidents. Those programs focus on housing, employment and outreach.

“There are a multitude of services,” Fields said. “We need to ensure that people know about that. We also need to say to those who do harm, you’re accountable for doing harm and there is help for you.”

One of URI’s newest shelters is called New Visions. It’s a state-of-the-art facility in Jamaica, Queens, with 96 units, including specially designed apartments for survivors with disabilities, and purpose-built spaces that can accommodate pets.

Staff members said it’s important to continue to spread awareness about such facilities and what they offer.

“When people hear the word ‘shelter,’ they think of dark or roach-infested,” said Arielis Frazier, director of clinical services. “‘Nobody’s going to care about my child. Nobody’s going to really care about me.’”

New Visions is designed to provide wraparound services for women and their families, added said. “What’s different about here is the fact that we are fully invested,” she said. “We want to know how can we help, how can we support, and as soon as you walk through those doors, we want folks to feel like this is a continuum of a place of healing.”

The city has implemented various programs to address the increase in intimate partner killings, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said. They include continued investment in abuse prevention education in public schools and the expansion of a program that repairs doors and windows at survivors’ homes to help keep them safe.

The Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence has pledged to reduce domestic violence felony assaults by 25% in 2030.

Rose now lives in her own home in Albany. URI subsidized her rent while she got settled.

“They gave me a home that I never had, because not everyone has a family that’s going to be able to support them through these rough times,” Rose said, encouraging people in dangerous situations to make the same call she did.

“I almost gave up so many times I didn’t think it was even possible to get out, and it really was, it is,” she said. “I got the windows open. And the birds are chirping, and I’m like, I never recognized these sounds before.”

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