There is still help for victims of domestic violence caught in the ‘perfect Storm’ created by COVID-19
In the last two weeks, Gulfcoast Legal Services in St. Petersburg (GLS) has received an influx of calls regarding domestic violence – nearly double the number of calls about other matters. Family law advocates expect this need to continue increasing as long as the COVID-19 stay at home orders remain.
Social distancing has created many challenges for people living with abusive partners, according to Jena Blair, deputy director for the GLS family unit. She said recent statistics show that murder-suicides are up 100% and some abusers are kicking victims out of the house so they will “get infected.” In some cases, Blair said, survivors are being told that the police and paramedics will not respond if they call for help.
But assistance is still available. Anyone who is experiencing domestic violence during COVID-19 is encouraged to reach out for help however and whenever they are able. Blair said GLS can help survivors with civil legal issues, including, but not limited to, injunctions for protection, divorces, timesharing issues, paternity actions, and relative caregiver child custody. They can also provide referrals and work in tandem with local domestic violence shelters who can provide additional case management, safety planning, and emergency housing.
“During these times, we are reading about spikes in gun sales and murder-suicides, and this impacts domestic violence survivors dramatically,” Blair said. “It really is a new layer of crisis and fear for our clients to live with. These are people who are already confronting and overcoming so much trauma and abuse. Survivors need to know they have access to justice and recourse.”
To see if you are eligible for assistance with a civil domestic violence issue, call 727-821-0726 ext. 244 (English) or 131 (Spanish), or fill out an online application for services at gulfcoastlegal.org/request-assistance. While the organization has temporarily suspended in-person services, staff will work with clients via email and phone and will support clients in court hearings either by phone or in-person as necessary.
In addition, GLS has a list of common Questions & Answers regarding civil legal needs (such as information on family law, employment law, housing, etc.) on its blog at gulfcoastlegal.org/blog.