Fortunately, the numbers have not reached epidemic proportions, but local officials are keeping a watchful eye on increases in domestic violence and child abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.
Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson has seen 16 domestic violence injunctions filed with her office since Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay at home order of March 18. Her office remains open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to process injunctions, and can be reached either by telephone at 653-8851 or online at www.franklinclerk.com.
An analysis by Sheriff A.J. Smith of domestic violence calls into dispatch has seen a 15 percent increase in such reported incidents. Fortunately, deputies have not had to make arrests in most of these cases, but their presence usually helps deescalate a possible worsening situation.
"We have all seen the reports that incidents of domestic violence are increasing during this time of quarantine," said Chris Hart IV, chief executive officer of Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers. "No matter the circumstance, Floridians can depend on their clerks to provide an important avenue to protection."
Other protective injunctions and mental health services remain a priority, including protective injunctions for vulnerable adults and risk protection orders. Baker Act and Marchman Act cases are also continuing during this time to provide protections for individuals experiencing mental health and/or addiction issues.
Whitley Wilson, who works as victim advocate for the sheriff’s office, said she can help victims in many ways, since often they are either unwilling to call the law, or after they do call and a deputy pays a visit, they back off from accusing the perpetrator.
"I can help her even if she does not want to press charges," said Wilson.
She said that all matters of criminal behavior and immediate danger should be called into 911. In those instances where the victim is reluctant to do so, Wilson is also available by calling 670-8500.
She can work to devise a safety plan that the abused party can follow in the event problems develop. "What is your plan of action to keep safe, if he comes back?" she’ll ask. "If I feel it’s not safe helping you, I will get deputies involved."
In addition, Wilson can help with filing injunctions, or to secure counseling. If a woman needs immediate shelter, she can work with Jhaki Davis at Refuge House to secure relocation assistance.
If the victim chooses to file a police report, Wilson can then help with filing for victim’s compensation from a fund within the Florida attorney general’s office. "It can help with emergency medical bills, counseling, it basically works as insurance," she said.
Wilson said domestic violence typically increases, as does most crime, in the spring, but the stay-at-home policies are "just making everything worse.
"And it’s not just intimate partners," she added. "It’s children, parents, anybody who lives in the same household."
And, she stressed, anytime there are children involved in a domestic violence situation, the authorities are duty-bound to contact the Florida Department of Children and Families.
"I’ve seen children more frequently removed from a home for domestic violence," Wilson said. "Domestic violence is very serious with DCF. They take it extremely seriously."