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Domestic Violence Still A Problem In Northwest Florida

Photo via Flickr// Bradley Gordon

  Nearly 1 in 4 women in the United States have suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Because of statistics like this, October has been proclaimed National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Although there are efforts to combat domestic violence, it continues to be a problem across the region.

In 2014, Escambia County had a slight increase in reported incidents of domestic violence, with a total of 3,201 cases overall and six domestic violence homicides.

“Of the 10 counties who are our size in Escambia County, Escambia county is number one in the per capita incidence of domestic violence,” said Sue Hand, executive director of Favor House.

Favor House is the one certified center for domestic violence that serves victims in Escambia and Santa Rosa, which had two domestic violence homicides and a total 685 reported incidents last year. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence is underreported to about 75 percent. So, the problem could be much worse.

“It is much worse,” Hand said. “The reality is we probably have about 12,000 victims walking around that you and I will never hear about, who never reach out for help and for whatever reason are in a situation they can’t get out of.”

Although women between the age of 18 and 34 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence, 1 in 7 men in the U.S. have suffered this form of abuse.

Locally, says Hand, men make up about two percent of the individuals served by Favor House. She believes it’s not because there are more male victims, but because there’s an increasing willingness of men to receive services from domestic violence centers.

During the fiscal year ending June 30, Favor House served a total of 453 people and provided nearly 10,700 nights of safe shelter.

It was also a busy year for Shelter House, which serves Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“We took in 1,869 hotline calls,” said Shelter House executive director Rosalyn Iovieno, noting that the total is pretty alarming for the size of the area they serve.

The combined population of Okaloosa and Walton is about 250,000. In 2014, there were a combined 1,800 total domestic violence cases and two domestic violence related homicides in the two counties.

Although it’s not tracked and there are programs on base, some of the people that Shelter House serves have ties to the military. Iovieno says they’re coming to Shelter House for an extra measure of privacy.

“People are sometimes worried about potential repercussions, especially if they’re both in the military and their husband or wife or partner is their abuser,” Iovieno said. “You know, you worry about things. Is that person going to lose their job or is their commander going to find out and there are other things that go into that.”

Iovieno has been on the job for just a few months, taking over for Michelle Sperzel in July. But, she’s been busy talking to community groups, trying to raise awareness of domestic violence. And, she says they’re particularly proud of their youth services, aimed at both intervention and prevention.

In the area of intervention, they have youth advocates to talk to the children of women domestic violence victims. Also, there’s a space just for kids.

Additionally, Shelter House works with youth in the community on prevention of intimate partner violence. Partners include the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast and the Nellie Bogar Youth Village.

“So we have a program where we go in and actually talk to kids about healthy relationships,” said Iovieno, pointing out that parents are sometimes good models of healthy relationships and sometimes they’re not. “So to have this other person, this youth advocate that’s out in the community, talking to these kids and being a good example, and really teaching them about that has been really powerful.”

Once domestic violence occurs, both Shelter House and Favor House have numerous programs youth and adults, alike, from counseling to education and transportation - and of course safe shelter.

Also, Favor House executive director Sue Hand says for the past 20-plus years they’ve provided a program for offenders, which most-often are males who are court-ordered to participate.

The offender program entails six months of coursework that teaches offenders that domestic violence is an act of power and control and gives them the tools to overcome their abusive behavior. That’s particularly important in new relationships or when partners try to pick up the pieces, which they often do.

“The desire of the survivor many many times is not necessarily forever and ever divorced or not being in a relationship,” said Hand. “She just wants him to stop hitting her.”

According to Hand, they’ve had success with 45 percent of those who’ve come through the domestic violence offender program.

In addition to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October also has been designated at National Bullying Prevention Month. In Okaloosa and Walton counties, Shelter House is joining with other community groups for the 2nd Annual Walk 4 Respect, which is set for Saturday, October 31 at the Morgan Sports Complex in Destin.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.