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In the Big Bend, calls for help with domestic violence rise dramatically

A person shrouded in darkness holds a sign that reads, "help."
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The pandemic kept domestic victims isolated with their abusers, and they couldn't call for help.

Last week Kiara Daniels was shot to death in Tallahassee, allegedly by her boyfriend. She’s the latest of at least four local domestic homicides in the past two months.

Refuge House Executive Director Emily Mitchem says it was eerie how, when the Covid-19 pandemic started, calls to the hotline plummeted. Refuge House went from getting about 300 calls a month to less than 50.

“People couldn’t get somewhere alone to be on the phone. And so they weren’t able to make that call because they were stuck in close quarters with the person who was harming them," she said. "And then I think once things have become closer to back to normal, I think that does contribute to the numbers we’re seeing with people coming forward.”

The shelter set up email communications with victims, Mitchem says, and that worked pretty well.

But over the past six months, the number of victims seeking injunctions for protection or counseling or medical care rose dramatically. Mitchem says when the numbers spike, she looks for a current event or big awareness campaign to explain it. This is different.

“But in this case, I don’t feel convinced that that’s the answer because it’s consistent -- it’s becoming our new norm," she said.

Also a new norm: major increases in gun violence, such as Tallahassee is enduring right now. The mixture is toxic.

“We know guns are used to intimidate and threaten victims all the time," Mitchem said. "All you have to do is see it, and you know that you’d better do whatever he says, or stop doing whatever he doesn’t want you to do. It’s absolutely a factor in domestic homicide.”

Mitchem says both of the program’s emergency shelters are consistently full. But she urges those in danger to call the hotline at 850-681-2111.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.