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Pandemic brings challenges to helping victims of domestic violence

Favorhouse
FavorHouse

Helping victims of domestic violence in Northwest Florida is proving to have challenges during the the pandemic.

“We’re seeing more people accessing our outreach office more than our shelter, and I think because of COVID, that close contact of communal people living [and] people trying to avoid that — and I do understand that,” said Marsha Travis, executive director of Favor House, the Pensacola area’s shelter for abused women.

Changes in that sheltering includes only two to a room for those without children, rather than the normal four to a room. And some of the local numbers mirror those nationally.

“As for statistical data, it is being indicating; because of being home together in COVID, numbers in domestic violence as well as child abuse is increasing,” Travis said. “And I could say that probably for our community as a whole as well.”

The rates of domestic violence — or “DV” — appear to be rising, and Travis points to historical data.

“Prior to COVID, whenever we talked about when is DV most likely to happen, and we found the weekend and evening; because that’s when we’re together,” she said. “I can definitely see what other stresses [such as] income being limited — and that probably just added on stresses. Not saying it is a cause, but it can factor into why we continue to see the behavior increasing.”

With the rising presence of the LGBTQ community and an increased prominence of transgender men and women, we’re seeing that they are enduring much of the same targeting as other victims. Travis calls that a “double-edged sword.”

“Not only people are biased against them transitioning and saying, ‘Hey, you’re not a real woman’ or ‘you’re not a real man,’” said Travis.” But then also, we’re looking at violence against women as a whole. So that is a population of people that’s just underrepresented as far as domestic violence happening. It’s happening at a greater rate than is talked about.”

Physical abuse — cuts, bruises, black eyes and other marks — are what many think of when it comes to domestic violence. But Travis says physical injuries do heal, but in some ways, the effects of verbal and emotional abuse can linger.

“Things that people say to you, you will always remember,” Travis said. “Something I like that Maya Angelou said: ‘People may forget the things that you say, but they will never forget how it made them feel.’ You can go back and have a conversation, or hear a song, or whatever — and if it had a moment with those words, it will take you right back to that emotional thought.”

It’s not always been called “domestic violence" and it’s not always been considered a crime or even serious. There was a time when the abuse of a wife or girlfriend — albeit implied or fake — was, to some, humorous. Exhibit-A: the 1950s TV series “The Honeymooners,” where Ralph Kramden continuously threatens his wife, Alice.

“It’s not that funny and I think it also did a twist in how people project relationships; I think we had more voices that were coming vocal; people were standing up and saying, ‘this is wrong,’” said Travis. “I can remember Archie Bunker — when we see Edith being very timid and we thought it was comedy.”

But art, in this case, is not reality, even 50 to 60 years later. But DV victims many times are the exceptions.

“I think comedy was coming from a place of reality for survivors of domestic violence,” Travis said. “And I think now, there’s more voices that are out there. Let’s look at technology — more eyes are on what is happening in families. What we’re seeing and how we’re receiving information as to what’s going on in our world. Our world has become very small because of technology.”

But to be totally fair, neither Ralph nor Archie — ever — laid a hand on Alice and Edith.

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” Ralph told Alice at the end of the episode.

While Favor House’s main mission is to provide safe shelter for abused women, it also offers other services as well. Executive Director Marsha Travis points to also serving those who are not interested in leaving a relationship.

“We do offer supportive counseling; we do partner with the survivor and pretty much assist them in developing a safety plan,” she said. “We also have attorneys that can assist them with filing an injunction for protection; we do have economic advocacy that can work with them about the finance piece. What we’re finding in our community — housing is a big problem.”

Anyone finding themselves in jeopardy because of an abusive relationship can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).” Favor House can be reached at (850) 434-1177.

Coming up in part three: Seeking justice for D-V victims.