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Domestic violence advocates deem coronavirus pandemic a dangerous time for victims

News-Journal - 3/25/2020

DAYTONA BEACH -- The coronavirus pandemic has thrust most Americans into self-isolation. But for those whose homes are far from a haven, domestic violence advocates fear the prolonged isolation will heighten their risk for abuse.

With women and children spending more time at home with perpetrators, domestic violence cases are expected to soar, according to local advocates and law enforcement officials.

The News-Journal is providing this important health information for free. Help support our journalism. SUBSCRIBE HERE.Recent data, however, does not reflect an immediate -- or drastic -- increase. From March 1 through March 23, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office documented 296 domestic violence cases, compared with 324 the previous year. In that same time period, the Flagler County Sheriff's Office reported 51 cases, compared with 41 in 2019.

Despite the greater likelihood of abuse, advocates suspect that domestic violence incidents might go unreported for some time. Angie Pye, chief executive officer of the Beacon Center, which provides shelter, counseling and legal services for survivors and their children, noted that most women contact the social service organization when their abusers are not home, adding that their sudden lack of privacy makes it much harder to reach out for help.

"This is a dangerous time for survivors and their children," she said. "There's not as many eyes on them right now. It's a breeding ground for people who want to commit acts of violence."

With less women and children being seen in person due to work and school closures, advocates urged social service workers and teachers to conduct video calls that allow them to check for signs of abuse. Teachers were also advised to encourage children to reach out to a safe adult, such as a grandmother or an aunt.

Advocates noted that those with friends or loved ones in abusive households may need to contact authorities or domestic violence centers on their behalf, as some victims might not have access to phones or other communication devices.

Those interested in developing a plan to keep their friends or loved ones safe from harm can contact the Beacon Center's 24-hour crisis hotline.

The Beacon Center's shelter will remain open to survivors during the pandemic, and a plan has been set in place to isolate those who develop symptoms of COVID-19. Other services will continue to be provided via Skype, phone and email.

Similar measures are being taken at the Family Life Center, which also provides shelter, counseling and legal services for survivors and their children. Although operations at the shelter will not halt, advocates fear that victims will not seek out critical services.

Trish Giaccone, executive director of the Family Life Center, noted that a recent scandal surrounding the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and its alleged misuse of state and federal dollars has led survivors to question their access to services. She reassured survivors that services at the Family Life Center have not been interrupted.

Despite efforts to prevent a reduction in services, Giaccone raised concerns about the long-term effects of the pandemic, noting that smaller facilities, like the Family Life Center, might struggle to respond to a sudden spike in need.

"What happens when the phone calls go through the roof?" she said. "We're going to have difficulty getting through this."


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