JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At a time when physical touch with strangers, friends and even loved ones is restricted due to social distancing and quarantines, some people are stuck in their homes with abusive family members or significant others.
Some areas around the country have reported an uptick in domestic violence issues amid the coronavirus since resources are limited, but organizations are looking for new ways to reach victims.
Elva Chase knows exactly what that is like. A domestic violence survivor, she now dedicates her life to helping people safely escape abusive relationships. Like most non-profits right now, the COVID-10 pandemic has restricted her outreach efforts on the first coast. However, that hasn't stopped her.
She recently shared a post on her Precious Hearts Foundation Facebook page that offers a virtual lifeline to people. The post reads:
"If you are stuck in quarantine with a toxic or abusive partner, message me about my favorite cake recipe and I will know to check in on you.
If you ask me about the one with pineapple, I will know to contact the police or resources to help.
And if you are willing, put something similar on your wall. There is power in numbers. It is a hidden and painful symptom of the pandemic and there are women and men out there who cannot escape."
She said she shared that post from a friend, who shared it from another friend, and so on. They hope people will continue to share the post on all forms of social media so it can reach anyone who needs to see it.
"It’s hard for people in that situation to reach out, so we try to make it easier for people by making that post," Chase said.
The message is similar to signs often posted in women's restrooms at sporting events, where the message tells a woman to order a certain type of drink at the bar to secretly communicate they are in trouble.
If someone reaches out, Chase said she will meet with them, set them up with counseling and provide them a room in an undisclosed hotel.
Depending on the severity of the situation she said she will have to contact law enforcement to ensure the safety of everyone involve, especially if the individual reaching out does not feel comfortable meeting in person.
She said their messages are private so no one else can see them and the names remain private, as well. If someone is concerned about their abuser seeing their sent message on Facebook, she recommends changing your password and only checking your message in private.
Once someone reaches safety, Chase's organization provides "extensive assistance for permanent housing placement," as well as mentorship for children and young adults, safety planning, community referrals and further outreach.
Chase's efforts also help people who are homeless due to leaving abusive homes.
She recently helped a young woman in her 20s, who was living under a bridge in Jacksonville with other homeless individuals, to get into a safe hotel for a few days. The young woman had left home because her mother was physically and verbally abusive.
Chase has enough funds to get the young woman into a hotel a couple of days each month so she can shower and get some better rest.
Chase said many people end up homeless because they think it's their only option when leaving an abusive home.
She also recently helped a couple in their late 40s get out of the tent they were living in when they reached out to her for help. They explained their plans to move into a home, but they were a little short on money. Chase was able to give them what they needed and now she says the couple has a roof over their head and the husband has a steady job.
That couple is now attending her Domestic Violence Awareness Dinner in October.
You can reach the Precious Hearts Foundation by calling 1-877-731-2210 or by sending an email on their website.
Chase is also a Board Members of PALS in Jacksonville so she works closely with law enforcement, who will step in as needed.
Other shelters and emergency services are also reaching out in news ways. The Hubbard House has expanded its domestic violence hotline to now accept text messages from those who need help.
Hubbard House's Domestic Violence Hotline services can be accessed by survivors via phone call at 904-354-3114 and text at 904-210-3698. These avenues allow survivors to confidentially connect with an advocate.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). Staff members are working remotely to maintain social distancing but they are still answering calls 24/7. You can find more resources around the country on their website. If it is an emergency, you should call 911.