LUMBERTON — Domestic violence survivors are doing their part to help others this month, as crisis calls have increased because of isolation brought on by COVID-19.
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office responded to 2,732 domestic violence calls in the county between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30. Those numbers do not include calls to city police. There are 1,588 domestic violence protective orders pending in the county.
Seven people have died in Robeson County this year because of matters related to domestic violence, said Emily Locklear, executive director of Southeastern Family Violence Center.
Quarterly reports from the Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County also show a 63.9% increase in rape and/or sexual assaults in the county when compared to the same time period in 2019, according to Virginia Locklear, the Crisis Center’s executive director. Those numbers include children under the age of 18.
But there are agencies working to address the increased need brought on by COVID-19.
“My whole goal with Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) is to let individuals in our community know that we are here,” Emily Locklear said.
“I just want people to know that domestic violence is present in our community and that there is help for any individual,” she added.
Emily Locklear is a survivor of domestic violence herself, and she often shares her story and strength with others at the center.
The executive director recalls enduring dating violence at the age of 18, when her then boyfriend tried to run her over with his vehicle, while she was pregnant with his child. He convinced her not to continue taking college courses, a decision she would regret and remedy later at a community college.
“It altered my life,” Emily Locklear said.
But she shares a common history with the rest of the staff, all of whom have been affected by domestic violence in some way, including a worker who started working Wednesday at the center.
The worker, who chose to remain anonymous, recalls six months spent at the center’s shelter when she was about 10 years old. She and her younger brother formed bonds with center workers as her mother attended counseling and planned her escape from a husband who used mental and verbal tactics to control and abuse her.
The worker does not recall being abused by her father, but remembers the shouting behind closed doors and the escape from the man behind the heated words.
“Now that I’m older, I just aspire to be a change,” she said.
Although she is new at the center, she hopes to share her story with people who need to hear it most, and to offer advice.
“Your situation doesn’t define your story,” she said.
The worker encourages other victims to reach out for resources and to seek help if needed.
The center offers a 22-bed shelter at an undisclosed location, and programs to help victims plan their way out of abusive situations and to secure housing away from abusers. It also helps with obtaining domestic violence protective orders and hosts a domestic violence support group. A confidential 24-hour crisis hotline also is available at 910-739-8622 or 1-800-742-7794.
Also among about 20 staff members is a Latino advocate and three other Spanish-speaking staff members who work across language barriers to provide accessibility and support for victims.
The SFVC is working to share videos, photos and stories of survivors on its Facebook page during the pandemic, which has restricted its usual methods of raising community awareness of the issue. The center will host its annual candlelight vigil on Thursday via Facebook to honor the memory of people who have died as a result of domestic violence. Anyone interested in sharing photos of loved ones during the ceremony should call the center by Tuesday at 910-739-8622.
“About one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related (intimate partner violence) impact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are several types of abuse, including physical, emotional, verbal, financial and sexual, among others.
Victims are encouraged to contact the Rape Crisis Center of SFVC for help, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sexual assaults have not stopped during the pandemic nor did they stop during the stay-at-home orders. If anything the experience is compounded by the COVID 19 restrictions and isolation,” said Virginia Locklear, of the Rape Crisis Center.
“If you decide to stay, call our crisis line to devise a safety plan,” said Emily Locklear, of SFVC.
When survivors choose to leave, the abuser feels as if his or her power is threatened, which can lead to retaliation, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“As a result, leaving is often the most dangerous period of time for survivors of abuse,” the Hotline’s website reads in part.
In 2019, SFVC served 1,383 individuals and received 1,151 crisis calls. Ninety-five adults and 84 children used the shelter to escape abuse that year.
“Leaving an abusive relationship may be hard to do but it’s the right thing to do. There is no shame in reporting domestic violence and asking for help. As seen by the numbers in Robeson County, we have an issue, and no one is immune from the threat of domestic violence,” Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said.
“Simply asking for help is the first step in taking charge of your life,” Wilkins added.
To find more resources on domestic violence visit www.hotline.org. All services provided by SFVC and the Rape Crisis Center are free and confidential. The Crisis Center can be reached by phone at 910-739-6278.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]