PORT CHARLOTTE — It’s too soon to tell if an actual jump exists in domestic violence cases due to coronavirus, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.
“It looks like there (could be) a correlation when you look at (the statistics) on paper but if you look at it realistically, the numbers (of recent domestic violence cases) could be any time of the year,” CCSO Public Information Officer Claudette Bennett said. “The facts differ as to what’s going on. We can see an increase in domestic violence cases on Sundays due to drinking or paydays due to financial reasons. To say that this (change) is related to coronavirus would not be accurate.”
Bennett went on to say that it’s just too early to tell if coronavirus quarantines and domestic violence have a connection.
“(Some) months later, it very well could be,” Bennett said. “But at this time, it’s too early to tell. We could pull three weeks from last year and it might be the same or worse.”
CCSO did provide some recent statistics on domestic violence in correlation to coronavirus.
On March 4, only five domestic violence cases were documented in Charlotte County within a week’s time, according to CCSO.
By March 11, the Sheriff’s Office documented another 15 domestic violence cases, a 200% jump from the March 4 count.
In that time, two deaths related to coronavirus were reported in Florida, closures and supply shortages began in other states and the World Health Organization declared a worldwide pandemic.
By March 18, an additional 20 domestic violence cases were documented by CCSO, a 33.30% increase.
Between March 11 and March 18, the United States declared a national emergency, Florida schools were ordered to close and, on March 17, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered bars and nightclubs to close and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity throughout the state.
By March 25, another 13 domestic violence arrests occurred in Charlotte County.
“We average about 200 to 230 calls per month for domestic violence,” Bennett said. “(For now), we are still nearing the normal amount.”
Punta Gorda Police Department hasn’t noticed much of a change in domestic violence cases.
“We have not seen an increase,” PGPD Lt. Dylan Renz said. “In fact, in the past week, we have only responded to two domestic calls.”
Karen McElhaney, executive director of the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies in Charlotte County, said they are prepared for anyone suffering from abuse.
“This is a dangerous time because (of coronavirus),” McElhaney said. “We work on safety planning (with our callers). Each individual has their own safety plan but sometimes it (involves) talking to them on their strengths ... what they can do to keep themselves safe and children safe. We are working with our community partners, taking calls and being supportive.”
McElhaney said they are currently at capacity at their facility. C.A.R.E helps survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes in Charlotte County with the goal to create safety in the community by promoting healthy relationships.
“Abusers aren’t stopping,” McElhaney said. “We’re still getting calls. We are at capacity, which is usual (but) this is a time when abusers capitalize on this. (With) increasing isolation, we are (expecting) to see an increase for the vulnerable population — victims and survivors.”