TAMPA, Fla. — The average price of rent is rising by the month across Tampa Bay. Advocates for domestic violence survivors say the costliness is causing victims to second guess escaping their abusive relationships.
“It is…a huge risk to survivors and the fear is that more survivors are going to die as a result," Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay said. “The danger that you know, right? Your abusive partner, you kind of know the risk. You don’t know all the risk, but you know some of the risks, versus this great unknown.”
“If there is nowhere to go then sometimes you stay with the devil you know as opposed to taking a chance," Courtney Weil, a domestic violence survivor said.
Certainty over safety is a choice Weil made for two years.
“I was isolated from everybody, and I was not able to get ahold of anybody or in touch with anybody and nobody really knew what I was going through," she said.
At the age of 20, Weil met her "Prince Charming," but once she became pregnant with her first daughter, Christina, Weil was introduced to her partner's dark side.
“I said something that set him off and he beat me up the first time pretty bad, just in my face, and then after she was born it began to get worse," Weil said.
Weil said her abuser isolated her from friends and family, broke her down physically and mentally, and controlled every aspect of her life. It was a life she eventually learned would end if she did not escape.
“The last night when he beat me up he took my face and my head and he cracked my skull with his knee," she said. "He shattered my nose and sprained my neck, and so the kids and I went out a window in the middle of the night.”
Weil never looked back. She found Murphy and The Spring of Tampa Bay. They helped Weil build herself back up and found the mother and her two girls a new home to start their new life together.
“Nothing is as bad as being inside that abuse, and then as you heal and as you get stronger and healthier all those pieces begin to come together and that’s amazing," Weil said.
But, for many survivors in the Tampa Bay Area, it is becoming harder and harder to see those pieces fall into place.
“It’s a crisis, and I think it’s only going to get worse," Murphy said.
Murphy said she is writing $5,000 checks just to put survivors in a safe living situation: a dollar amount unheard of just a year ago.
“As those dollars dry up it is going to be an insurmountable challenge," Murphy said.
The rising rents are even more dangerous for survivors stuck with their abusive partners. Murphy said they worry their sole income is not enough to get by on right now.
“These survivors absolutely feel trapped," she said. "Where are you to go when rents are rising 16, 20, 25 percent and you have limited means and maybe you’ve got a child or two that you’ve got to take care of.”
Fear of what they do not know is outweighing the fear of which they do. Murphy said The Spring's staff is desperately working to keep up with calls flooding the emergency crisis line. Murphy said The Spring has answered 3,128 calls since January 1, which she acknowledges is underreported.
“If you’re a survivor, you’re trying to get along each day, you’re trying to stay alive, you’re trying to keep your kids alive, each day," Murphy said.
“That added stress of the rents going up, the pressure of the gas prices, the pressure of the food prices, and pretty soon they’re under so much pressure and now they snap and they twist and turn much faster and abuse becomes worse," Weil said.
As much as a survivor hopes and wishes, Weil said, a violent relationship never recovers. She says, as scary as it may seem, the only way to stay alive is to leave.
“We find a way, and does it mean there might be a couple of nights where you’re couch surfing? I hate to say that that may happen to somebody, but you’d rather that than end up losing your life," Weil said.
There is always expert help available for domestic violence survivors. If you feel stuck in an abusive relationship, you can call or text The Spring's 24-hour crisis line at 813-247-SAFE. Visit The Spring of Tampa Bay website for more available services.