ORLANDO, Fla. — In a time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many advocates fear an uptick in domestic violence cases.
- Fewer people are calling crisis hotlines
- Advocates fear abused will become more isolated due to COVID-19
- Emergency shelters have coronavirus protection protocols
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As more people are staying home now, it is harder to put an emergency call in.
Harbor House of Central Florida has tracked a steady decrease of calls into their emergency lines since Orange County’s stay-at-home order went into effect last Thursday. The calls went from 29 on Thursday to as few as seven on Saturday, according to data provided by Harbor House.
“If your abuser’s in the room, you’re not gonna call,” explained Harbor House CEO Michelle Sperzel. “Isolation is the abusers’ best friend. And this is prime for them to be able to keep and hold their family hostage. And a lot of us may not even know because of the fact there is a shelter-in-place.”
Calls to the hotline increased overall in February, when news of the coronavirus became more mainstream -- 120 more calls were made than that time last year, according to data provided by Harbor House.
Sperzel said another added consequence of all of this is they are getting more calls from people in Georgia and North Carolina. People now seeking shelter because the virus has closed down their shelters.
In Volusia County, calls to the Beacon Center’s emergency hotline have been trending down overall compared to last year.
“Our staff knows that if a survivor gets an opportunity to call right now, it could be their only opportunity to call," explained Director Angie Pye. “And so we’re doing everything we can to meet whatever needs they have or effort to get to safety at that very moment.”
Both agencies have been seeing more and more people using social media to contact them for help. Advocates are encouraging everyone to call their loved ones to check in, especially those they suspect may be subject to abuse.
“I think that all of us have to be very conscientious of that and ask more questions,” said Pye.
Screening procedures are in place at their emergency shelters, where social distancing is practiced and a quarantine room is available.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends people subjected to domestic violence formulate a personal safety plan. This could include setting up a standing call with relatives or establishing a code phrase to signal an emergency.
The Beacon Center’s emergency hotline is 386-255-2102. Harbor House’s crisis hotline is 407-886-2856.