Domestic violence cases in Clay County show ‘dramatic increase’: Shelter CEO

Lauren Fox

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Domestic violence cases in Clay County have increased since the pandemic, according to Jennifer Rodriguez, the CEO of the domestic violence shelter Quigley House.

“There has been a dramatic increase in domestic violence cases and the danger of the case, the likelihood that the individual could possibly end up murdered,” Rodriguez said.

One in three women and one in four men experience domestic violence in the U.S., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). Rodriguez said these statistics represent the frequency of domestic violence in Clay County.

While some statistics tracking cases of domestic violence in Clay County show instances of abuse trending down, Rodriguez explained that she witnesses the opposite trend working at the county’s only domestic violence shelter. Domestic violence includes acts of physical, sexual or emotional abuse by a family member or romantic partner.

The pandemic exacerbated the severity and frequency of domestic abuse because victims living with their abusers were forced to spend more time with them during lockdowns and had less access to family members and friends, Rodriguez explained. With people shifting from in-person work or school to online, chances to escape abusers became less frequent.

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Domestic violence and sexual assault are “extremely underreported” crimes, Rodriguez said. Not all victims who seek aid from Quigley House report their abuse to authorities, contributing to the reason official domestic violence statistics can misrepresent the actual violence in a community.

“Most perpetrators and victims do not seek help,” according to a 2022 StatPearls book in the National Library of Medicine examining domestic violence in Florida. It estimates that domestic violence cases cost upward of $12 billion per year and predicts the number of victims in the state to rise over the next 20 years as the elderly population increases.

Victims of abuse can span across ages, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, although Rodriguez explained there are some groups that come to the shelter more frequently and are at higher risk of becoming victims.

“We serve more women than men, but we do serve men,” Rodriguez said. “Marginalized populations tend to experience violence at a greater rate: minorities, Latinos, Black people, women, members of the LGBTQ community.”

For income factors, she explained that violence occurs “across the board.” People with higher incomes can use their socioeconomic status to control victims who rely on their abusers financially. When children are involved, abusers with higher incomes can threaten to take custody, encouraging victims to remain silent. Public perception can also play a role because people with higher incomes or educational statuses may be perceived well by members of their community.

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Power and Control WheelPhoto: Quigley House Facebook page

By establishing power over victims and using intimidation to maintain control, abusers keep victims in a pattern of abuse, according to the NCADV. Abusers may appear charismatic to people outside the relationship, making warning signs from victims harder to identify or believe. Abusers will often use gaslighting, or manipulation that causes victims to question their experiences, to control the people they abuse and make it harder for them to seek help, said Rodriguez.

“Doing things or saying things to make [the victim] appear crazy or irrational or erratic… You see perpetrators using friends, family, to kind of further control the individual by painting a [negative] picture of that person,” Rodriguez explained.

In Clay County, Quigley House offers emergency shelter, community education, court services, financial services, child advocacy and counseling to help combat the problem in the area. While COVID and staffing issues have affected Quigley House, Rodriguez explained that they are working to overcome that, and their 24-hour emergency hotline will always be available.

Quigley House also works with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to help investigate and prosecute cases of abuse. Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook created specific patrol units and investigative positions addressing domestic violence and sexual assault.

Educating the public is a large part of combating a crime that is largely underreported. Learning to read warning signs of abuse and recognize red flags can help victims become survivors. Recognizing signs of abuse in one’s own life and knowing where to seek help can be life-saving.

“When [victims] tell you something, believe them. You do not have to do anything in terms of trying to change or fix the situation, but you can inform them of organizations like Quigley House,” Rodriguez said. “There are times some of the things [survivors] say may not make sense, and that’s okay.”

If you suspect you are a victim of domestic violence, you can reach the Quigley House 24-hour emergency crisis hotline at 904-284-0061.

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Lauren Fox is a communication major at the University of North Florida, focusing on journalism. Lauren has years of international work experience, working jobs in countries such as Australia, New Caledonia, Vietnam and Morocco.

Jacksonville, FL
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