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Raising Awareness About Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Awareness
Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children Facebook

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in three women and one in four men will experience violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.

WGCU's Andrea Perdomo spoke with the executive director of the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children Linda Oberhaus, about measures being taken to overcome those statistics.

Here is a transcript of their conversation:

Perdomo:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. What are some common misconceptions about domestic violence that people often have?

Oberhaus:
There are a lot of myths about domestic violence, but one of them, probably the biggest one is that domestic violence only happens in poor communities. And we began mapping out all of the 9-1-1 calls for all of Collier County that really demonstrates that domestic violence happens all over the map in every single zip code in Collier County. It doesn't make a difference, it happens in Port Royal, in East Naples, Immokalee, Golden Gate and Gulf Shore Boulevard. So domestic violence really does not discriminate.

Perdomo:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline says one in three women and one in four men will experience violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Why don't we hear about it more?

Oberhaus:
Well, I think there still is a lot of shame attached to domestic violence with people not wanting to expose it. I think in more recent years, victims are more likely to reach out for help, but I think there's a lot of ... in domestic violence situations where there's a lot of powering control, perpetrators will use intimidation and threats against that victim to really increase the likelihood that they're not going to tell friends or family members. And they do that through isolation or through these threats and intimidation, it really does make that victim fearful of their life should they call 9-1-1 or should they tell someone about the abuse.

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Perdomo:
And what can we do to overcome those statistics?

Oberhaus::
Well, I think first of all, victims need to know that research shows that the number one safest thing that victims can do for themselves and their families is call a local domestic violence center. And so there's a Florida Domestic Violence Hotline, that number's 1-800-500-1119 and they can call from anywhere in the State of Florida and it's going to ring at the local domestic violence center.

Perdomo:
What services does the shelter offer?

Oberhaus:
So one of our most important services is going to be that 24 hour crisis hotline. We're about to roll out a 24 hour text hotline as well, so that's going to be coming 1st of November. So if victims are sheltering in place with their abusers, they can literally text the hotline now, instead of picking up the phone to call. So they can text us from the bathroom or somewhere else in the home without actually talking to someone by phone.

We also have services for people who don't necessarily need to come in and be sheltered. And so we have outreach services in Naples and in Immokalee. And we have advocates that work everywhere from the state attorney's office, we have one who partners with all three of our law enforcement agencies. We have one who partners specifically with the Department of Children and Families to keep families safe and together. And then we have an advocate who also works in the courts, related to injunctions for protection that are filed here in Collier County.

Perdomo:
Has the women's shelters seen an increase in women seeking services during the pandemic?

Oberhaus:
So we have seen an increase in women seeking counseling services through our outreach offices, but not so much calling our 24 hour crisis hotline. We have seen a dramatic decrease in calls to our hotline.

Perdomo:
If people haven't been calling the emergency line, have you noticed, or have you guys seen an increase in domestic violence incidents?

Oberhaus:
So what we've seen is an increase in calls from the prior year to 9-1-1, which is really important to note. Because victims who call our hotline, they may not necessarily be in immediate danger where they're being physically threatened. Now, in some cases that does happen. But these may be victims who are calling to get resources, to learn about safety planning, and just to sort of better understand their options if they're living in a violent relationship. So the fact that we have seen an increase over the prior year to calls to 9-1-1 versus calls to our hotline means that in those homes, the violence has escalated so much so that they're being physically threatened or they wouldn't be calling 9-1-1.

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Perdomo:
The COVID-19 outbreak has put people's health and livelihoods at risk. How can the stress of social instability affect domestic relationships?

Oberhaus:
Well, one of the things that we've known for years is that there tends to be a correlation between unemployment rates, for example, and an increase in domestic violence. And if you think about it, victims of domestic violence who happened to be at home, if they're unemployed, if the person they're sheltering or living with is unemployed. Then that person has more access. So if that person is abusive to begin with in that relationship and then becomes unemployed, now he has more access to that victim and that's why we see an increase in domestic violence during those times.

Perdomo:
How has the shelter been spreading messaging and connecting with those experiencing domestic violence during the pandemic?

Oberhaus:
So the message that we're trying to get out through media is that the shelter is a safe place from abuse, but it's also a safe place during the pandemic. And so we're just trying to impress upon victims in the community that although they may be reluctant to bring their children into a shelter, which shelters are communal living environments. Even though they'll have their own family bedroom, we are doing the spraying of the shelter, sanitizing all of our facilities on a daily basis, and then cleaning every two hours after that.

Perdomo:
Is there anything that you would like to share?

Oberhaus:
As human beings, when we find out that someone's in a domestic violence relationship, we're very quick to say, "Well, you need to leave that relationship." But most people don't realize that that's the most dangerous time for a victim is when they're leaving that relationship or when they've already left that relationship. I could give you some more information about that if you're interested based on the attorney general statewide fatality review report.

Perdomo:
Yes, please.

Oberhaus:
This will really, I think, bring home for you how victims can be at greater risk when they're leaving or when they have already left that relationship. In 60% of the cases, victims had expressed an intention to leave their abuser prior to their death. We know about a fourth of all victims had a permanent civil injunction order for protection filed with the courts at the time of their death. And so we have victims that are doing everything they can possibly do legally and otherwise to keep themselves safe and to keep their children safe, and still their lives have been lost.

And so many of these victims have not called a domestic violence center for help leaving safely. And that's why we're here. We're here 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take their call whenever they're ready to make that call so we can help get them out safely.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.