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Stay-at-home orders fuel concerns about domestic violence & abuse

Domestic violence calls in Nassau County rose almost 40% from February to March

YULEE, Fla. – As Floridians and the rest of the nation react to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, abuse and domestic violence hotlines are seeing a spike in callers seeking help.

Over 34,000 calls were placed to a hotline for vulnerable populations and at-risk children in March, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. By comparison, that’s a 30-percent increase over the 26,000 calls received in February.

With so many people either out of work or working from home, advocates say victims of domestic violence are more likely to be around an abuser right now.

For many victims, schools and workplaces are safe havens — places they can escape trouble at home. Now, mandatory lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 have left some of them trapped at home with their abusers.

It’s something already seen in Nassau County. According to numbers provided by the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, domestic violence calls rose almost 40 percent from February to March.

“Since the virus began here in Nassau County, as well as other parts of the country, we’ve seen an increase in domestic issues that take place in our community,” Sheriff Bill Leeper told News4Jax on Friday.

Domestic calls in Nassau County went down 1.5 percent from January to February. But those calls rose by 37 percent from February to March. Compared to last year, domestic cases are up 12 percent overall in 2020.

Heather Jones is the executive director for Micah’s Place, a domestic violence shelter in Nassau County. Jones said calls to the shelter’s hotline have risen 25 percent just in the past two weeks.

"We are all being asked to stay at home, because that’s a safe option,” Jones said. “But the reality for survivors is that may be anything but safe. Isolation… is already a well-known tactic of abuse, so during stay-at-home orders perpetrators will most likely take advantage of the isolation.”

Jones worries that as the economy worsens, so too will domestic violence and abuse.

"I think with social distancing in place, many outlets that survivors had, maybe the workplace or visiting with family and friends, are no longer options for them,” Jones said. “So many techniques survivors have relied on in the past are no longer options."

Micah’s Place is trying to work remotely as much as possible and is conducting crisis counseling with victims over the phone. Shelters across Northeast Florida are staying open, though many are now screening victims for COVID-19 symptoms.

If you or someone you know is or has been a victim of domestic violence or abuse, there are resources available:

  • The Florida Domestic Violence Hotline, which will direct you to the nearest shelter, is 1-800-500-1119;
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is open 24 hours a day. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE;
  • The Micah’s Place (Nassau County) Domestic Violence Help Hotline is 904-225-9979;
  • The Hubbard House in Jacksonville can be reached by dialing 904-354-3114;
  • The hotline number of Quigley House in Clay County is 904-284-0340;
  • The Betty Griffin Center in St. Johns County can be reached at 904-824-1555

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