St. Petersburg, FL – In the last two weeks, Gulfcoast Legal Services (GLS) has received an influx of calls regarding domestic violence – nearly double the number of calls about other matters. Family law advocates expect this need to continue increasing as long as the COVID-19 stay at home orders remain.
Social distancing has created many challenges for community members who are living with abusive partners. Recent statistics show that murder-suicides are up 100%. Some abusers are kicking victims out of the house so they will “get infected.” Others are telling survivors that they will be arrested if they leave the house due to the stay at home orders. Survivors may feel unsafe reaching out to family for help, especially if their technology is being monitored, as physical distancing limits the time they have alone with others. In some cases, survivors are being told that the police and paramedics will not respond if they call for help.
It is important for our community to combat these ideas and spread the word that assistance is still available. Anyone who is experiencing domestic violence during COVID-19 is encouraged to reach out for help however and whenever they are able. GLS can help survivors with civil legal issues, including, but not limited to, injunctions for protection, divorces, timesharing issues, paternity actions, and relative caregiver child custody. They can also provide referrals and work in tandem with local domestic violence shelters who can provide additional case management, safety planning, and emergency housing.
“During these times, we are reading about spikes in gun sales and murder-suicides, and this impacts domestic violence survivors dramatically. It really is a new layer of crisis and fear for our clients to live with. These are people who are already confronting and overcoming so much trauma and abuse. Survivors need to know they have access to justice and recourse.”
– Jena Blair, Deputy Director for the GLS family unit
To see if you are eligible for assistance with a civil domestic violence issue, call 727-821-0726 ext. 244 (English) or 131 (Spanish), or fill out an online application for services at gulfcoastlegal.org/request-assistance. While the organization has temporarily suspended in-person services, staff will work with clients via email and phone and will support clients in court hearings either by phone or in-person as necessary.
In addition, GLS has a list of common Questions & Answers regarding civil legal needs (such as information on family law, employment law, housing, etc.) on their blog at gulfcoastlegal.org/blog.
About Gulfcoast Legal Services
Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc. (GLS) is a regional 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing free, comprehensive civil legal aid through counsel, advice, representation, advocacy, and education for vulnerable individuals and families in the greater Tampa Bay area. GLS is dedicated to serving vulnerable individuals living in poverty, low-wage workers, persons with disabilities, veterans, the homeless, victims of domestic violence or human trafficking, the LGBTQ+ community, and the elderly who otherwise may not have access to an attorney. For more information, visit: http://gulfcoastlegal.org.