Advocates say resources still available as coronavirus stress could mean increase in domestic violence

Victim advocates say increased isolation could mean an increase in domestic violence, but resources are still available and charges are still being filed against abusers.

Victim advocates say increased isolation could mean an increase in domestic violence, but resources are still available and charges are still being filed against abusers.

Local shelters say they’re open, and will remain open, during the coronavirus pandemic if someone needs a safe place to stay.

Read: Second Orange County resident dies after COVID-19 diagnosis; 4 cases confirmed in the county, health officials say

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“All across our country and in our local community, people are being asked to stay at home because it’s safe. The reality is that for many people, home is anything but safe," Harbor House CEO Michelle Sperzel said during a news conference.

There are 128 beds still open in the shelter, and there are 67 people there now.

Though coronavirus means canceled classes and businesses shut down, the isolation for many is stressful, especially for people in abusive relationships.

The crisis hotlines for Harbor House and Help Now of Osceola are still operating.

“We’re ready and we’re available,” said Tammy Douglass, with Help Now of Osceola.

Victims of child and sexual abuse who need counseling can still get it through the Victim Service Center, which serves Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. The 24/7 hotline is still live, and there’s also a texting service that operates during business hours.

“We do ask that you first call our main office, so that one of our therapists or a victim advocate can do a phone screening first and then schedule a session,” said Lui Damiani, with the Victim Service Center.

If officials ask questions, don’t be alarmed -- it’s so they don’t spread COVID-19. Damiani said they are also working to implement HIPPA-compliant web-based sessions.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala said her office will continue to prosecute abusers, and domestic violence advocates say they are still at the courthouse to help with injunctions, even as restrictions intensify due to the coronavirus.

“Those who perpetuate acts of violence during this time, you will be held fully accountable," Ayala said.

The close quarters creates another difficulty: getting away to reach out for help. That’s why the Harbor House website has added safety features for people looking for resources, including erasing all the website cookies so a prying partner won’t know their victim is looking for an escape hatch.

Harbor House has also set up a way to reach out to advocates on its Facebook page.

If you’re facing abuse and have a pet, you can try to get out of the house by visiting the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, which is offering free pet food during the pandemic.

“Come to us for food and if you need safety, let our staff know and we will help you,” said Stephen Bardy with Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

Here are numbers for those who need help during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Harbor House Hotline: 407-886-2856
  • Help Now of Osceola: 407-847-8562
  • Victim Service Center (call 24/7): 407-500-HEAL(4325) | Text: 407-497-6701