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'It takes courage:’ Domestic violence survivors encouraged to speak up

Harbor House of Central Florida offers safe shelter, legal advocacy

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange County Sheriff John Mina said so far this year, there’s been a 4% decline in domestic violence calls, but he said that doesn’t mean there’s been a decrease in abuse within the community.

“In fact, the number of homicides related to domestic violence is slightly up this year. Ten homicides in 2019. So far this year, 13 homicides. Two of those cases alone account for five of our domestic violence victims because of family violence. The concern is that because of the pandemic, people who are staying home may not be reaching out and those cases are still happening but not getting reported,” Mina said.

That’s why Mina and other community leaders came together with Harbor House during a joint news conference to raise awareness about domestic violence on Thursday, which was the start of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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The group mentioned the death of 27-year-old Barbara Tommey, who was shot by her husband outside of the credit union in Orlando where she worked last month. Her husband, Sylvester Ofori, is now facing a murder charge.

“The most dangerous time for a survivor is when he or she leaves that relationship. If the victim had had the ability to get supportive services earlier, perhaps her family and our community would not have had to experience that tragic loss,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

Harbor House of Central Florida is a domestic violence organization providing safe shelter, legal advocacy and other services to help domestic violence survivors and their families. Harbor House CEO Michelle Sperzel said it takes courage to ask for help.

“You can call our emergency hotline and it’s an anonymous call. You don’t have to give any information about you, we’ll ask about your situation and do a safety plan that’s specific to you,” Sperzel said.

The crisis hotline for Harbor House is 407-886-2856

During the pandemic, Harbor House has had to lower the capacity for its emergency shelter to 50% so residents can socially distance. They’ve also experienced a drop in donations. With more layoffs on the way from large employers, Sperzel said domestic violence will only get worse and more resources are needed to help those impacted.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala said it’s also a community effort in helping domestic violence survivors get out of their situation and find help.

“Don’t check out, it’s time to check in with the people you know who are in danger. Check in with the people who you assume are not in danger. Check in because you know intimate partner violence is a silent reality for so many people within our community,” Ayala said.

Click here to make a donation to Harbor House and help domestic violence survivors throughout Central Florida.


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