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The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office and The Spring of Tampa Bay have teamed up with partners to launch the “We Are Open” campaign on social media; it spreads the message that “Help for victims of domestic violence never closes.”
The goal is to reverse disturbing statistics that suggest that many abuse victims are not reaching out for support, and are instead suffering in silence. Experts expected the stress created by the coronavirus pandemic’s shelter at home orders and financial crisis to lead to more domestic violence. But comparing 2020’s March and April’s numbers to the same months in 2019 has advocates concerned. That’s because domestic violence arrests referred to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office by law enforcement are slightly down and calls for help to The Spring of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough’s main nonprofit supporting domestic violence victims, have not increased.
Advocates assume that victims are still suffering, but they are not reaching out for help—either because they’re scared of the effects of the pandemic, or they’re not able to get to a safe place where they can call for support.
On Friday WMNF interviewed the elected Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.
What can you tell us about the “We Are Open Campaign?” What is it and why are you doing it?
“Domestic violence often lives in the shadows. It’s hidden and out of sight and victims and survivors become scared into silence. And we know that domestic violence goes up during an emergency like this. And the calls for help have not been increasing in Hillsborough County, which gives us some concern. We know that abuse is happening but victims are not seeking help.
So the “We Are Open” campaign is to make sure that everybody understands that help for domestic violence survivors never closes. That help is there through support, injunctions and prosecution. Our commitment to fight to end domestic violence never ends and we are here and open to help.”
If the calls are not going up, how do you know that it’s just not that there’s less domestic violence?
“That could be the case. And we hope that’s the case. Usually when we see calls for service flat or going down, it’s a really good thing. But, again, our concern is that the reason why calls are not going up is because victims aren’t reaching out for help and statistically during these periods of stress, isolation, even intoxication, where you have employment concerns, which destabilize families and create additional stress, we know that it’s a combination for violence.
“And so we were prepared for and expecting to see an increase in calls for help. We haven’t seen it. And we just want to make sure that the reason why we’re not seeing it is not because victims are suffering in silence. So we put out this campaign, and if nothing happens from it great. Then maybe we’ll be reassured that the reason why is because calls are actually down because abuse is down. But we’re not just going to assume that. We want to make sure that victims understand they can reach out for help. And that we are here to help them.”
The “We Are Open” campaign that you have, describe the visuals and describe where you’ll have this information for people.
“The “We Are Open” campaign is to make sure that victims and survivors understand that they don’t need to suffer in silence. We have this perfect storm of conditions for an increase in domestic violence here and the concern is that victims feel like they can’t escape. They don’t have privacy. They are trapped in a situation with their abuser. Which is why it’s critical for us, the State Attorney’s Office, The Spring, law enforcement, to make sure that people understand that they can call for help.”
What do you recommend to someone who is in a domestic violence situation or if someone knows or thinks their neighbor might be?
“Call for help. Call for help. Call for help. They can call The Spring’s 24/7 hotline. If it’s an emergency, they can call 9-1-1. The most important thing is for victims to understand that help is here, despite closings in a lot of businesses. Despite limitations in what’s happening in our courthouse. Our commitment to fighting, prosecuting domestic violence, and supporting victims, has not changed one iota. And we want to make sure victims understand that. There’s always an option out. They don’t need to suffer in silence.”
I’ve spoken with some advocates for reducing gun violence who say that the combination of people being at home more but also with the increased sales of guns that that might be an additional layer of consideration when it comes to abuse of victims. Have you heard of any connection between the two or are you concerned about that?
“Absolutely. Seán, that’s a great question. We know that guns and domestic violence are a deadly combination. The chance that a victim is killed by an abuser is five times higher when the abuser has access to a gun. It’s part of the reason why we implemented our disarming domestic abusers initiatives back in 2017.
“And we’ve seen huge increases in guns sales during this pandemic. The first week of the stay-at-home essentially across the country in mid-March, had the highest number of background checks for gun purchases in the 22 years that the FBI has been tracking them. So now you have a combination of increased stress, isolation and guns. It makes for, again, that potential perfect storm of problems for domestic violence.
“Which is why it’s critical that we let survivors know that there are options. They’re not trapped. Help is here.”
Do we know anything about other types of crimes and the rates of crimes in the community whether they’re going up or down? Do we know?
“We’ve seen crime generally go down, which is a good thing. And it’s understandable. And when you look at what happens historically over periods of isolation and where people are staying at home, we haven’t had it with a pandemic, but in Florida we have it with hurricanes, you tend to see crime drop a little bit. But you also tend to see the calls for domestic violence go up.
“And that’s what’s giving us concern right now because we’re not seeing the increase that we would expect. Again we hope that’s because the abuse is not happening. But we want to make sure that if the abuse is happening, that victims aren’t afraid to seek help.”
What are some signs that people can look for domestic violence or abuse victims, maybe in their loved ones or in their neighbors?
“Signs of abuse can be physical, so you know, the bruising and cuts that you see. People who are covering up potential injuries. Poor excuses and explanations. And often you see victims and survivors who are not willing to talk about what’s happening. Who are afraid to seek out help and leave what’s going on at home. Again we have a situation now where a lot of people aren’t going into work, they’re working remotely and maybe that survivors are trapped in the homes of their abuser. They don’t have the privacy to make a phone call. They don’t have a break during the day to reach out for help and we want to make sure they know that there is that opportunity.”
Andrew Warren is there anything else that you’d like to tell our listeners about domestic abuse or about domestic violence?
“Domestic violence continues to be a high priority for our office and for our law enforcement partners. We praise the work that The Spring and so many other partners do every day to help and support survivors. And, again, just spread the word, that we are all open for business.”
Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-500-1119 or TDD (800) 621-4202
Listen to the entire show here. We also spoke with the state director of Environment Florida, Jenna Stevens, about the rollback of environmental regulations.
The Hillsborough County Health Department announced Monday that one more Hillsborough County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. This brings the number of deaths in Hillsborough to 38.
According to the Florida Department of Health website, updated Monday morning, there are now nearly 41,000 positive coronavirus cases in the state. 1,399 people have died in Florida. More than 330 people have died in just the last week. More than 7,200 people are hospitalized; that’s a number that continues to grow. There are almost certainly more cases, because not everyone is tested.
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Below is information provided by the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center:
Governor’s New Order Means Barbershops, Hair Stylists, and Nail Shops Can Open for Business in Hillsborough County
COVID-19 Coronavirus Update No. 105
Hillsborough County, Fla. (May 11, 2020) – Beginning today (Monday, May 11), Hillsborough County residents may resume getting professional haircuts, manicures, and similar personal cosmetology services under a new Executive Order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
During their semi-weekly meeting, members of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group heard a summary of Executive Order 20-120, which allows holders of state-issued barber or cosmetology licenses to provide services at establishments that adopt appropriate social distancing and precautionary measures. These licenses include Barber, Restricted Barber, Cosmetologist, Nail Specialist, Facial Specialist, Full Specialist, Hair Braider, Hair Wrapper, and Body Wrapper.
In accordance with the order, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation mandates these services can only be provided under these restrictions
All services are by appointment only.
Establishments must allow 15 minutes between appointments for proper disinfecting.
No group appointments are permitted.
Masks must be worn by all employees while performing personal services.
In addition, barbershops, cosmetology salons, and cosmetology specialty salons are encouraged to adhere to the following guidance
Thoroughly clean and disinfect prior to reopening. Make sure to disinfect all surfaces, tools and linens, even if they were cleaned before the facility originally closed. This type of cleaning should continue between each day of operation.
Consider providing unworn masks to clients for use during their appointments.
Remove all unnecessary, frequently-touched items like magazines, newspapers, service menus and any other unnecessary paper products and dcor from customer service areas.
Also during Wednesday’s Emergency Policy Group meeting, County Commission Chairman Lesley “Les” Miller Jr. again strongly urged residents, for their health and safety as well as those around them, to continue practicing social distancing, follow signage and markings in stores, avoid large gatherings, and wear face coverings while around others in public.
The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group is comprised of three County Commissioners, the mayors from the cities of Plant City, Tampa, and Temple Terrace, the Sheriff, and Chairman of the School Board. Authority is granted by Article 8 of the Florida Constitution, Section 125.66 and Chapter 252, Florida Statutes. Hillsborough County enacted Hillsborough County Code of Ordinances and Laws Chapter 22, Article II, Sections 22-23 in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the County’s residents during declared emergencies.
The next EPG meeting is scheduled Thursday, May 14 at 1:30 p.m.
Other Hillsborough County News
New Hours for Medical Supply Donations – Starting Tuesday, May 12, Hillsborough County’s medical donations site has new hours of operation but the same mission: collecting badly needed supplies to protect health care workers and others dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus. As the County begins to carefully reopen services and locations, the site had adjusted hours to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The site is accepting new in the box or unused medical grade personal protection equipment: face shields, surgical masks, N95 masks, Tyvek suits, and exam gloves. Also, homemade masks in all sizes are needed for non-clinical staff and patients. Supplies can be dropped off at the former Sears Automotive shop at 250 Westshore Plaza in Tampa.
Nutrition and Financial IQ = Prizes – The Hillsborough County Extension Service is hosting a Nutrition & Finance Hump Day Kahoot Challenge presented by the University of Florida IFAS Extension Family and Consumer Sciences. This live, interactive competition will offer fun facts on nutrition and personal finance with prizes for the top three scores. The challenge is scheduled Wednesday, May 20, at 11 a.m. Registration is required (https://nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fufl.zoom.us%2Fmeeting%2Fregister%2FtJMpf-yprjgoGNGMaWe0TlDvd_8w0WRssNk6&data=02%7C01%7CSean%40wmnf.org%7Cfb528390384d48e0880808d7f5e45d4c%7Ceff8000820724c42b3fe736c3260d23f%7C0%7C0%7C637248233601418375&sdata=o3FuAYi1crVohOO9fPUttzOpIWTvyehUSlN9WC40Fc4%3D&reserved=0).
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the session.
Get Connected. Stay Alert.
For more information on COVID-19, and any other potential emergency in the county, visit HCFLGov.net/StaySafe and sign up for the HCFL Alert system.
Additionally, you can follow Hillsborough County on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor for updates. For general County information, call (813) 272-5900, the County’s main information line.