HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Domestic violence calls for help are still on the rise following the COVID-19 pandemic. This often means emergency housing and assistance is needed now more than ever.
Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. — about 10 million men and women per year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or NCADV.
For one group of people, domestic violence homicide rates are significantly higher. Local anti-violence shelters in the Hampton Roads area are raising the alarm.
“We’ve seen such an increase in homicides, and such an increase in women of color being those victims of homicides,” said Robin Gauthier, Samaritan House executive director. “It’s just been a terrible year.”
Black women are 2.5 times more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner, or ex, than any other race, according to the NCADV.
“Black women are being murdered at higher rates than anyone else,” said Courtney Pierce, the Samaritan House anti-trafficking outreach, direct service coordinator and the African American advisory chair.
Since November 2022, WAVY-TV 10 has reported at least seven deadly domestic-related homicides. The names of all of the 2022-2033 victims in Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk and Virginia Beach were shared during the annual Day of Unity to start off Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
This month, the Samaritan House, based in Virginia Beach, is working to empower minority communities through education by partnering with a local influencer to share the statistics and red flags on social media. Brenten Sims is a Chesapeake native with over 15,000 Instagram followers.
“This is not … a ‘them’ problem,” Sims said. “This is an … ‘us’ problem. It’s alarming because of the women that I personally know. I would never want them to experience something like that, and then not be able to tell anyone. The stats make me feel accountable — this is what’s happening in your community.”
Sims calls his platform a “brave space” that focuses on Black male mental health with uplifting messages and yoga classes.
“I know that if we heal, those statistics will go down,” Sims said. “There’s a responsibility for men of color to be part of this conversation.”
Pierce said information is shared really quickly on social media, and even a 30-second clip can help educate people.
Domestic violence heavily impacts the African American community. Over 6,000 Black individuals sought support from a domestic violence agency in 2022 across the Commonwealth.
“We see an overrepresentation at Samaritan House,” Pierce said. “Around 50-60% of the [people] that we’re serving identify as Black or African American. We’re seeing so many of our sisters and brothers come in.”
Olivia Smithberger, HER Shelter CEO, which serves Portsmouth and Chesapeake, echoes a similar sentiment.
“Over 75% of the individuals that reside within our shelter identify as Black,” Smithberger said. “We definitely see a disproportionate number of individuals that are receiving services.”
On the Peninsula, Transitions Family Violence Director of Housing Ayana Morales said a lot of their African American women were coming to their programs.
“We have survivors that are transitioning out of the program, and we’re seeing them possibly return,” Morales said. “As the community knows, we have several African American women that are dying from domestic violence.”
Smithberger said it’s important for officers to be trained on how to de-escalate situations when they receive a domestic violence call.
“It can be hard to figure out who is the victim, and who is the person doing the assault because they come out at the height of the interaction,” Smithberger said.
Lieutenant Carlos Sanyer has been with the Virginia Beach Police Department, or VBPD, for 21 years. VBPD recently renamed domestic violence/missing persons unit to the Family Services Squad, to better serve families and victims.
“You have to make sure that when you respond to a case that they trust you,” Sanyer said. “That they feel comfortable opening up to you, and they’re comfortable speaking about all the horrible things that happen. Domestic violence is a sickness. It’s unfortunate that it’s such a powerful crime because it also affects [families] emotionally, physically and mentally.”
Sergeant Cynthia Santiago said domestic-related calls are “one of our highest rated of calls for service.”
Following the 2022 Marie Covington case, VBPD updated its process for missing persons cases, after an internal review revealed “failures” in the initial investigation.
“We put in new parameters in regard to when it comes to certain cases,” Santiago said. “When it comes to missing persons cases, we have a new reporting system. We constantly call back.”
Moving forward, the hope is for unity for those still in the healing journey.
“We just need to educate everyone and make sure that everyone feels comfortable talking about,” Sanyer said.
On Thursday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m., YWCA South Hampton Roads will host the “Black, Blue & Purple: Racial Disparities in Domestic Violence.”
This event is hosted in partnership with the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University.
Featuring panelists such as:
Stephanie Howard, Ph.D. — Norfolk State University
Neisha Himes — G.R.O.W. Foundation
Kristen Pine — YWCA South Hampton Roads & Norfolk Family Justice Center
Courtney Pierce — Samaritan House
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. at the Norfolk State University Theatre.
For questions about the event, please email email@example.com.
Attendance is free, but registration is encouraged.
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