Break the Cycle: Hampton Roads advocates discuss increase in domestic violence, housing crisis

Domestic Violence Awareness

"We want you to use your voice to voice for the voiceless."

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Domestic violence advocates across Hampton Roads have worked tirelessly throughout the coronavirus pandemic to support survivors and break the cycle of abuse.

10 On Your Side interviewed six shelters across the region, and they all agree: the need for services has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has created a greater need for our services,” said Avalon Center Community Engagement Coordinator Leslie Jingluski. The Avalon Center serves the greater Williamsburg area. 

“The pandemic has impacted our agency drastically,” added Sanu Dieng, executive director of Transitions Family Violence Services. The organization services survivors and their families in Hampton.

On the Southside, organizations such the Genieve Shelter in Suffolk are feeling the impacts of COVID-19 as well.

“We’re seeing more and more layers of trauma than ever before because these families suffered so much. They suffered because of the pandemic plus they suffered because of the abuse,” said Marleisa Montgomery, the executive director of the Genieve Shelter. The shelter is a small organization, but serves survivors in a large area, including the entire Western Tidewater region. The organization provides emergency shelter and provides survivors with a legal advocate in court. This is through a partnership with Regent University. 

It is one of few shelters with this program.

“The majority of our survivors are children. Most of our victims are still not vaccinated, and lots of the children are still not vaccinated. So, we cannot go back to operating normally as if we are through the pandemic. We’re still pretty much trying to struggle get through it again,” Montgomery said.

Job loss and pandemic fatigue have created very dangerous situations in some homes. “Survivors that were coming in fleeing during the pandemic were like in a war zone when they were home captured in that violent environment,” Montgomery said.

Even larger programs such as the YWCA South Hampton Roads in Norfolk, are working overtime to help domestic abuse survivors.

“We actually are not slowing down as a matter of fact. The intensity of the violence in our area has dramatically increased,” said YWCA CEO Michelle Ellis-Young.

Ellis-Young said the violence is getting more extreme.

“It’s truly someone trying to take someone’s life. Our teams are stretched with just the number of lethal cases that are coming forward in this pandemic,” she said.

Domestic violence advocates at the Samaritan house in Virginia Beach say the coronavirus pandemic has added stress on families.

“More stress, more abusers and victims being unemployed not being able to separate households because they can’t afford it because of the unemployment. All types of things are increasing the lethality of victims,” said Robin Gauthier, executive director of the Samaritan House.

For the survivors who escaped abusive households, the pandemic also created another obstacle: finding housing that is safe from their abusers and the coronavirus.

To follow CDC and state COVID-19 guidelines for groups, Hampton Roads domestic violence agencies spent between $70,000 and $220,000 on hotels — all above the shelter’s budgets.

“Some of our clients have moved to into hotels either because we have reached capacity or because they may have, they are waiting on a negative COVID test,” said Deborah Apperson, an advocate who works at Help & Emergency Response, Inc. in Portsmouth.

The goal is to help survivors regain confidence to rebuild their lives — but the move into healthy homes can be an uphill battle.

“It has become very hard to find affordable housing,” Apperson said.

Now the advocates are working with realtors and apartment managers to place survivors in safe and affordable housing.

“It is so difficult to find stable housing and affordable housing for individuals to move from a place of shelter,” Ellis-Young said. “We don’t want to place people just anywhere. We want to make sure that we can place them in a community where they can thrive and not just survive. You want to make sure that those kids have a semblance of a home that is safe. That is secure. We don’t want them to have a place that they don’t feel safe and secure.” 

They are hopeful federal and state grants will come in to help.

“The funding is just not out there. It’s a possibility that it could come about again but right now it’s not there,” Montgomery said. 

They all ask for your help with donating space, items, money or just volunteering your time.

“Every individual in this community is indirectly impacted by domestic violence. Whether you’re an employer, an employee, a neighbor, a friend, or a family member. We want you to use your voice to voice for the voiceless,” Ellis-Young said.

10 On Your Side has compiled a list of local and national resources for residents to fight and prevent domestic violence and child abuse.

In the United States, about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) including sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Domestic Violence Prevention Resources

10 On Your Side is committed to help Break The Cycle of domestic violence in Hampton Roads. 

Here is a link to all of the local groups or agencies we have highlighted. The page also shares testimonials of survivors.

Here are some local and national resources for victims in need of help.

Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton

YWCA South Hampton Roads in Norfolk

LGBTQ Life Center in Norfolk

  • Provides: Intimate partner abuse counseling and support group, safety planning, crisis intervention and education sessions. Assistance with emergency housing and legal services. Youth services and support groups.
  • 757-640-0929

Military Family Advocacy Program in Norfolk

  • Provides: Prevention of family violence, victim safety/protection, offender accountability, rehabilitative education/counseling, and command intervention
  • 757-444-2230
  • Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate (DAVA)after hours: 757-438-4180

Avalon Center in Williamsburg

  • Phone: 757-258-5022
  • Offers transitional housing, emergency shelter, youth services, legal advice, and counseling.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline: 757- 258-5051

Samaritan House Inc. in Virginia Beach

  • Phone: 757-631-0710
  • Offers counseling, emergency shelter placement, and safety planning.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline 757-430-2120

HER Shelter in Portsmouth

  • Phone: 757-485-1445
  • Offers emergency services, court assistance, shelter, employment, housing assistance.
  • Hotline: 757-485-3384

Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence

  • Hotline number: 757-787-1329
  • Offers: an emergency shelter, 24-hour crisis hotline, individual counseling, safety planning, children’s services, legal advocacy, accompaniment during hospital visits and court appearances and support groups to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Website: 

National Domestic Violence Hotline1−800−799−7233

Virginia Domestic Abuse Hotline1-800-838-8238

About 11 million women and 5 million men who reported experiencing sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime said that they first experienced these forms of violence before the age of 18.

At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year and in 2018 nearly 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States, according to the CDC.

Prevent Child Abuse America – Coronavirus Resources & Tips for Parents, Children & Others.

Child abuse and neglect are serious problems that can have lasting harmful effects on its victims. For more information on preventing child abuse and neglect check out resources from the CDC or call The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 for help.

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