ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Domestic violence is on the rise in Central Florida, and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is re-convening a task force to fight back.
The Domestic Violence Commission was originally started nearly 15 years ago, in 2005. Monday morning marked the first meeting for the new commission as it looks to fill the gaps in services.
Domestic violence survivors are also part of the new commission. They joined law enforcement leaders, judges, attorneys and advocates to make recommendations on how to safely get women, children and even some men out of abusive homes.
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"I just literally packed my kids in my car and I left," said survivor and advocate Lisa Alexander. "I met him at 19 years old and it was beautiful so I thought. But once we got married when I was 23, the abuse started. We ended up having children back to back and I couldn't leave. I had no job. I had nowhere to go."
She said she knows firsthand where services are lacking and hopes to help fill the gaps on the commission.
"So, as we make recommendations, we've got four survivors here to say, 'I went through the system and I'm a survivor. Let me tell you how it should work.' And we will make the improvements," said Dick Batchelor, co-chair of the commission.
Batchelor said Orange County has the most domestic violence cases in the state.
The number of cases increased by 10% from 2017 to 2018, and homicides related to domestic violence are up 17% this year.
The Harbor House said it is also serving 14% more victims than last year.
"There is life beyond the bruises. There is life on the other side of domestic violence," said Harbor House CEO Michelle Sperzel. "So, we have an entire community that's wrapped up in solving that issue."
As part of the solution, Chief Judge Don Myers issued an administrative order to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, because more than half of female victims who are murdered by their spouse are shot.
Anyone charged with domestic violence now has to give their guns to the Orlando Police Department or the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
"Physically turn it in, get a receipt, come back to the court within 24 hours and prove that you've left that gun, turned it in to a safe depository. You no longer have access to that handgun," Batchelor said.
If someone charged with domestic violence does not turn their guns over within 24 hours, they will go to jail, Batchelor said.
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