Social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders were meant to protect people from COVID-19 infection — but it had unintended consequences for survivors of domestic violence.
It left many trapped with their abusers.
“I have seen COVID affect survivors in so many different ways — it has definitely escalated,” said Alyssa Burns, director of domestic violence programs at the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies (CARE). “There were some survivors that were not reaching out as much because of the quarantine and the isolation.”
Coronavirus has been used to manipulate partners in a multitude of ways — threatening to tell employers that someone tested positive as a means to keep them in the house, or using job loss as a way to strap someone down financially so they’re unable to leave.
“All the dynamics that were there before are still there,” Burns said. “But they’re definitely heightened.”
Domestic violence can include physical, sexual and psychological assault.
In 2019, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office received 2,533 calls for service regarding domestic violence, and 595 arrests. In 2020, so far, there have been 1,870 calls for domestic violence situations and 482 domestic violence arrests.
CCSO has a unit dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, which helps survivors to connect with resources and investigates reports of domestic violence throughout the county.
“We’ve seen crime go down, but one of the things we’ve seen keep going up are assaults and batteries, and a lot of them are domestic-related,” said Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell. “We’re trying to empower (survivors) and work with them and get them resources. But at the same time, we are working with the offenders... We’re trying to get them help, too, so they don’t re-offend.”
Prummell also serves on the Board of Directors for CARE, which helps him stay informed, he said.
A major misconception about domestic violence, Burns said, is that it only affects a certain population.
“We really see every demographic — male, female, heterosexual, homosexual,” she said. “There’s really no class, no demographic that domestic violence doesn’t touch.”
A common factor among survivors is a relationship moving very quickly, often at the discomfort of one person. If a relationship becomes romantic and then quickly gets emotionally or physically intense at a demanding level, that can be a red flag, Burns said.
An abuser will often manipulate someone under the guise of establishing “trust,” and ask for passwords for a cell phone or control of social media accounts.
“If there’s any iota that something isn’t right, talk to somebody that you trust,” Burns said.
CARE offers a plethora of services for survivors including a Domestic Violence Hotline, a text number and an online chat.
The nonprofit also offers support groups and individual counseling. Employees are not licensed mental health counselors, but the organization has advocates who are educated in the dynamics of domestic violence.
An economic justice program helps survivors with housing, employment, credit and resume building.
“That’s especially important during these times,” Burns said. “If they think that they can’t get out or stay out (of an abusive relationship) because of money, that’s what we’re here to help them with.”
CARE also offers legal advocacy — help with filing for divorce, custody and orders for protection.
In Sarasota County, SPARCC (Safe Place And Rape Crisis Center) offers free and confidential services for domestic violence survivors, including shelter, support groups and free legal services that can help obtain injunctions for protection.