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New concerns for domestic violence victims as local center sees increase in murder-suicides

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Posted at 6:32 AM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 06:32:57-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — There are now new concerns for domestic violence victims.

“Domestic violence is about an imbalance of power and control and so when you see in relationships when one person is very overprotective of the other, it’s masked that way to be perceived to come from a place of genuine love,” said Zuleika Gonzalez-Felton, Batter Accountability Specialist for CASA Pinellas.

Recently, CASA, Pinellas County’s domestic violence center, has been dealing with an increase in domestic violence cases that have escalated.

“In like the last, say like three or four weeks, we’ve seen a lot of murders and murder-suicides going on,” said Gonzalez-Felton.

She believes this could be due to COVID-19 and lockdown over the past year.

“One of our biggest concerns as an agency, as people who work this field, is that the pandemic made it so that batterers could assert more power and control over their victims and keep them further isolated from their support systems so that they can maintain that power and control,” said Gonzalez-Felton.

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen, and things open up again, experts say there’s a concern for domestic violence victims who’ve spent this pandemic with their abuser, and what could happen next.

"They’re starting to lose that grip on that kind of control that they have and isolation that they have. People are starting to interact with friends, seeing friends and family that they haven’t seen in a long time and perhaps those people are starting to share some of the things that are going on at home… It seems like maybe it’s escalated. So I think that that’s what may be causing or could cause somebody to unravel and make really poor decisions like murder-suicide,” said Gonzalez-Felton.

If you see a friend or family member for the first time in a while and they open up to you about anything that may hint at domestic violence, experts say you should take the opportunity to be a support system.

“A lot of times survivors they know deep down inside like this doesn’t feel right. Something about this does not feel right,” said Gonzalez-Felton.

“It’s about being that ear, creating those safe spaces for those types of conversations and validating what someone is going through and then helping them process what leaving looks like,” she added.

Each situation has its own circumstances, but if you need help, Gonzalez-Felton says you should reach out to your local domestic violence shelter, make sure you have a safety plan, know your safe place, and talk to a professional about creating an exit strategy.

“Statistically data backs up that the likelihood that a situation can turn into a homicide is 70%, and part of that is because of lack of planning and reaching out to professionals,” said Gonzalez-Felton.