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Expert advice on staying safe if isolated and living with abusive partner

One in four women report experiencing domestic violence in her lifetime, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for victims to reach out for help.”Abusers are there all the time. So, historically, survivors would go to work and call us on their lunch break or they’d call us when the abuser was at work. And that’s not an option anymore,” said Roseanne Cupoli, the Chief Program Officer for The Spring of Tampa Bay, a certified domestic violence center.Cupoli says that because the pandemic has caused many to lose their jobs, financial stress can escalate an abusive relationship.”People are facing evictions, and all of these sort of stressors can certainly increase levels of domestic violence,” Cupoli explained.Having a weapon in the home can also increase the risk level.The Spring’s advocates discovered police reports involving domestic violence calls had a gun in the house more often in 2020 than in 2019.”When she reviewed cases at the same time last year, there was about 5% of the cases that she flagged that involved a weapon. And when we used the same time period of this year, it has spiked to over 20%,” Cupoli said.But despite the isolation during this pandemic, there are ways family, friends and colleagues can spot signs of abuse.Cupoli says pay attention during zoom calls since we’re often in each other’s homes.”If you’re hearing something in the background that’s concerning. The way someone’s partner is speaking to them or to their child or to their animal, any of those things are opportunities to reach out after that call or privately and say this is something that I observed, and I’m really worried about you. Can I help get you information? Or can I help link you with The Spring or law enforcement?” she explained.Since every abusive relationship has its own set of dangers, Cupoli says everyone’s safety plan will look different.So analyze your situation carefully.”Walkthrough, even if it’s in their mind, of what is an easy exit? What’s a door that they can quickly get out of? Have a safety plan with young children that are in the homes of how they can keep themselves safe or their younger siblings safe. If that’s asking them to call the police or to hide somewhere or to notify a neighbor if there’s something unsafe going on in the home,” Cupoli said.If you feel unsafe calling The Spring’s 24-hour hot-line at 813-247-SAFE (7233), Cupoli recommends asking someone else to call for you.The Spring’s free emergency shelter, legal services and more can help you immediately.”Nobody deserves to be abused under any circumstances, and COVID-19 is not an excuse that they have to feel like they’re stuck at home for the duration of a pandemic before they can leave,” she said.If you’re in immediate danger, call 911 to connect with law enforcement.The Spring of Tampa Bay has more information on their website. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also 24-7. Just call 1- 800-500-1119.

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