Storm-Related Violence Spike Not Seen Here; Shelter Operators, Law Enforcement Brace for State Trend in Domestic Violence to Eventually Play out Locally

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY., The Times-Union

So far most of the First Coast hasn't seen the hurricane-related spikes in domestic violence cases reported in harder-hit areas of the state.

In fact, Jacksonville shelter Hubbard House and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office noted decreases in the number of reported "intimate violence" incidents and abuse hot line calls during the weeks of havoc caused by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

The area shelters that have seen some increases aren't necessarily attributing them to the recent storms.

Even so, North Florida shelter operators and law enforcement said they are bracing for an expected impact of cases as the statewide trend starts to play out locally in the weeks and months to come. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

"The results are going to take a while to start showing," said Jacksonville police detective Heather Stevens, who investigates cases of intimate violence -- those involving a romantic or formerly romantic connection between abuser and abused.

"With all the extra stress and everything, we will see an increase in domestic violence reports come through," Stevens said.

On Sept. 28, just days after Hurricane Jeanne roared ashore in Stuart and rampaged up the state, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence launched an anti-domestic violence campaign. Bush said he wanted to prevent the large increases seen after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when domestic violence reports in Dade County shot up 50 percent and divorces 30 percent.

Much of North Florida so far has been spared the numbers of cases already being reported in places like Charlotte County, where Hurricane Charley took lives and destroyed property in August. But local officials aren't prepared to celebrate.

"The most hard-hit are seeing the impact -- we will see the impact," Ellen Siler, chief executive officer of Hubbard House in Duval County, said during the kickoff for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

In a subsequent interview, Siler said hot line calls to Hubbard House in September were down from the usual 500 to 600 per month to "less than half that."

Also, shelter occupancy in the 80-bed facility was down from its usually full capacity because some occupants left to prepare their homes or to stay with family to ride out Frances and Jeanne, Siler said.

"But we're already seeing that turn around," Siler said.

In St. Johns County, Betty Griffin House Executive Director Beth Hughes said there were a few more calls than usual in the past month. But she declined to attribute the increase to the hurricanes.

"Issues around domestic violence are not absolute," Hughes said. "Sometimes one shelter will be full, another will be quiet, and we're not sure why."

Quigley House in Clay County had a slightly higher-than-usual number of hot line calls and residents as of Friday, Executive Director Sharon Youngerman said. …


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