At a time when public health officials strongly urge “social distancing” to contain the coronavirus, for most, the home is considered the safest place. But, for victims of domestic violence (DV) victims, the reality is anything but. The home is where the danger lies.
We know from past hurricanes, when natural disaster strikes, abusers get more stressed, things get out of control and in an attempt to feel more in control, they take their fear and anger out on their partner.
Never before in modern times have we faced a public health crisis of this magnitude that is expected to force people to stay in their homes until at least April 30. It’s an alarming proposition that’s sure to bring about a spike in domestic violence given the undue stress of the virus itself; lost jobs and income; mixed with increased alcohol and drug use. Florida’s unemployment rate has already jumped by the highest percentage since Great Recession.
According to research conducted for an HBO documentary, up to “75% of domestic-violence homicides happen at the point of separation or after [the victim] has already left [her abuser].” Additionally, in 2018, its last fully reported year, Florida experienced the most total domestic-violence homicides since 2009.
The question becomes, what happens if survivors don’t have a safe place to go?
Having been the CEO of a certified Florida shelter for ten years, I can say with certainty that most shelters do not have resources to isolate symptomatic people or manage the surge that will come once the stay at home order is lifted.
If home-isolation weren’t hard enough on domestic-violence survivors, further complicating matters is that Florida’s shelters have been forced to operate on a shoestring, thanks in part to the $7.5 million compensation scandal involving Tiffany Carr — the disgraced former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
As the coronavirus spreads throughout Florida, I call on officials to do everything in their power to protect survivors stuck in impossible circumstances at home with their abusers only to find a domestic-violence system that has gone years without adequate funding through no fault of taxpayers.
Specifically, I urge the following:
- Transparency with regard to the real-time number of domestic-violence survivors requesting and receiving support from shelters
- Treat domestic violence as a secondary epidemic in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Emergency funds for domestic-abuse centers to address the increased need
- Use CARES funds for hotel rooms for overflow from abuse shelters and to allow for “social distancing”
- Prepare communities for the surge in need after the stay at home order is lifted
- Funding for a statewide “warm line” that provides anonymous telehealth access to therapists with experience in trauma.
If you agree that the state has a public safety and moral obligation to protect domestic-violence survivors in unsafe situations at home who are frightened of going into potentially overcrowded shelters during this pandemic, I urge you to contact our public officials right away.
Carol Wick founded and runs an international consulting firm that helps nonprofits worldwide.