2 hurricanes, ongoing pandemic contributing to recent rise in domestic violence, experts say

ORLANDO, Fla. — Some experts say back-to-back hurricanes and the lingering coronavirus pandemic could be contributing to a recent increase in domestic violence calls.


With the holidays approaching, even more cases are expected.

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Michelle Sperzel is the CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida, a non-profit shelter for victims of domestic violence. She says their phones have been ringing even more than usual recently.

After 23-year-old Sha’Dayla Johnson was murdered at the hands of an ex-boyfriend in Melbourne Tuesday morning, Channel 9 asked Sperzel what the likelihood was of prior domestic violence in that home.

“Oh, it’s incredibly high whenever something happens that it ends up being lethal,” Sperzel said. “When someone is trying to leave, or they break up with a person, however long it might be, that’s often the most dangerous time in that relationship. Oftentimes that’s when the violence within the relationship will escalate.”

That’s exactly what neighbors say happened to Johnson after the suspect, 23-year-old Carlos Jones, became angry that Johnson had broken up with him. Investigators say Jones showed up at Johnson’s house Tuesday morning and shot her several times.

According to data from the Florida Department of Children and Families, the problem is only growing.

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From 2020 to 2021, statistics show Florida’s certified domestic violence centers like Harbor House provided 412,360 nights of emergency shelter to 10,287 survivors and their children.

There were another 72,321 requests for emergency services made by way of calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Sperzel says calls to their hotline have been up all year, and it’s ramping up even more during the holidays.

“It might be that there’s no income coming in, and now you have the abuser who’s home all day with the survivor, and also with the kids, and there’s no place for her to get any type of reprieve,” Sperzel said.

Sperzel says there are a few signs that friends and family can look out for if they suspect domestic violence is occurring behind closed doors.

READ: Police: Man surrenders after fatally shooting ex-girlfriend, 23, in Melbourne

“Someone says that they don’t have enough money in order to buy the presents for the kids, or someone who is checking in with their partner throughout the day, and the person always seems to know where they are,” Sperzel said. “Or there seems to be just more of a lack of self-esteem that’s’ happening within your friend’s and their relationship that you’re just noticing that they’re different.”

If you or someone you know needs help, Harbor House can be found on Facebook and twitter. As mentioned, they’re also available by way of a hotline that’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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