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Treasure Coast Sees Rise in Domestic Violence due to COVID-19 Isolation

Tania Ortega-Cowan

Isolating victims from the outside world has long been a control tactic for domestic abusers. Now with enforced isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic and all its added stress, we wonder just how this is affecting domestic violence on the Treasure Coast. So, we travel to Safe Space headquarters in Martin County to have the discussion.

CAB: We’re seeing a rise in those cases – a lot of high lethality cases that involve stalking; involve strangulation; involve threats of violence where ‘I’m gonna get my gun and I’m gonna shoot you.’ So, during this pandemic, that’s been on the rise.

That’s’ Charlotte Anderson Brown, director of Operations with Safe Space which is a United Way agency that provides victims of domestic violence with shelter, safety, support and education FREE OF CHARGE in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties. Before COVID-19, survivors could meet with Safe Space advocates at a child’s school or the library, to strategize an escape plan. But the pandemic has, at least for now, shut those doors.

JB: Hi – I’m Judy Brophy, I’m the interim CEO and I’m the director of Trauma Informed Services. Those portals, if you will, for survivors who are already being isolated socially, we’re closing down and closing down, so the world of a survivor has become even more encapsulated.

To get a personal perspective, we speak with survivor and Safe Space participant we will simply call “Mo” to protect her identity. Mo was born and raised in Vero Beach.

MO: A year ago this past weekend, he tried to kill my son and I.

Her son was just over a year old at the time, and Child Protective Services connected her to Safe Space. Then, in the weeks leading up to their May 2020 court date, new threats ramped up.

MO: But, during this process of isolation, my abuser, my used-to-be partner, um… was stalking me and my son. Called 77 times. Drove by my house which I have a RING alarm system and camera now due to learning proper safety planning for my son and I.

TOC: That you learned here?

MO: Correct! He was trying to scare me and intimidate me.  He had said to me that I was a ------ for surrendering his guns to the sheriff’s department and may I have done that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any.

Mo didn’t need to stay at the shelter but credits their Outreach programs for getting her life on track. Here’s Brophy:

JB: I think most folks will recognize us as the emergency shelter service and we are that, and we will always be that, but we are so much more.

Credit Tania Ortega-Cowan
The drawing of a child helped by Safe Space

Programs include strategic safety planning, legal protection, and prevention techniques for children…

JB: …where we work with youth to help them understand healthy versus unhealthy relationships.

They have an Economic Justice Program.

JB: We know money is power, money is a tool of control, so this program works with survivors to take back financial control.

They collaborate with law enforcement, the medical community, and child protective services. Here’s Brown again:

 CAB: It’s important that individuals get to us by contacting our hotline. That’s the first step. Most importantly if you are in a domestic violence situation you need to contact 911.

The Treasure Coast hotline is 772-288-7023. Here’s Brophy:

JB: We just really want to celebrate the strength of survivors. And  we think about folks who are victimized, we remember, and if you’re listening, I want YOU to know, that strength is there, that you’re gonna find your way out. That you are going to be safe. 

Learn more here: http://www.safespacefl.org/index.asp