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Domestic violence forum focuses on changes in occurrence, reporting in pandemic
Gateway Domestic Violence Center executive director Jessica Butler speaks during the Tuesday, Oct. 27, domestic violence briefing.

Domestic violence survivors said the COVID-19 outbreak made it “harder to tolerate the abuse after the pandemic started,” said mental health clinician Anjana Freeman. 

Freeman was recently hired to be the clinician for Gainesville Police, helping officers with any mental health crises they might encounter on cases in the field. 

“That has expanded a little bit to become resourcing the community, maybe after an event has occurred, and it can be an event related to domestic violence or loss of a family member,” Freeman said. 

Freeman and others spoke at a domestic violence briefing Tuesday, Oct. 27, hosted by the Gateway Domestic Violence Center in Gainesville. 

A brief survey was disseminated by Gateway’s advocates to the people they serve to learn about recent factors on domestic violence cases. They received eight surveys back, and five of them were for cases that started after March. 

Gateway’s statistics on services rendered have skyrocketed compared to the same time last year. 

Between April and July 2019, the center paid for 26 hotel nights due to lack of space in its shelter. 

During the same time this year, the center paid for 167 hotel nights. Outside of increased demand, Gateway’s executive director Jessica Butler said they also used the hotel rooms for social distancing purposes.

 The number of women served by the center increased from 57 people during April-July 2019 to 107 people during the same period this year. 

Freeman said the isolation and ways the abusive partner could control the other person increased, though anecdotally police agencies have had a decrease in reports. 

“My theory is that there perhaps was not a change in the number of people who actually asked for police intervention in their own cases, in their own abuse, but the change comes through the isolation,” Freeman said. “There’s less reporting by the public and by mandated reporters.” 

Susanne Croft, a counselor at White Sulphur Elementary, said the school system often serves as a safe space for children to tell what is going on in the household. She said children will often disclose any marital problems in the home or separation, which has been also been affected by the COVID-19 isolation. 

“There was a lot of children just stuck in those situations, and they just come in and just share everything that’s going on which led to a double already in the number of (Division of Family and Children Services) referrals and domestic violence referrals I’ve done by this time during the year,” Croft said. 

Freeman said the circumstances under which children and victims are experiencing domestic violence during the pandemic “increases the risk of long-term and severe (post-traumatic stress disorder) and trauma symptoms.” 

“If they feel like they can’t talk to somebody, if they don’t have contact with safe individuals and safe places to talk about what’s going on, then they have higher symptoms in the long run,” Freeman said.