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Domestic violence incidents have become more deadly since the pandemic, experts say

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Officials at the Harbor House of Central Florida say domestic abuse incidents have become much more deadly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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Harbor House works to prevent domestic abuse by providing critical services to survivors.

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Their CEO, Michelle Sperzel, says more survivors are coming to them saying weapons were involved in their abuse, and the situations overall are much more dangerous.

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“More of our survivors are coming, letting us know they’ve been strangled, that they might have been stabbed,” Sperzel said.

After an apparent murder-suicide near Lake Nona where a family of five was killed, Sperzel says domestic violence incidents aren’t necessarily happening more frequently, they’re just becoming far more dangerous and deadly.

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“What we’re hearing now is definitely more people, the lethality and the frequency of it in their relationship increased due to COVID, during COVID and where we are right now,” Sperzel said.

Neighbors of the grizzly scene told Channel 9 they hadn’t seen the Ramirez family of five since Saturday, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary until this week.

Sperzel says there are some signs of abuse to watch for if you’re one of those neighbors.

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“Abusers like to keep the person they’re abusing isolated, so what we’ll see in a lot of different caes is that they’re people that have moved around,” Sperzel said. “There are so many families every weekend held captive when the abuser comes home. They do not want the kids outside. They are in complete control of what is happening.”

Sperzel says it’s also common to use kids as a means of attaining that control.

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“Sometimes children become pawns within that abuse,” Sperzel said. “‘If you leave me, I’m going to take the kids. If you leave me, I’m going to kill the kids.’”

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Sperzel says other signs to watch for go beyond physical bruises and cuts.

“You should also look for somebody who emotionally aren’t the same they were before,” Sperzel said.

She also says to look for fear.

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“That fear can show up in a couple different ways,” Sperzel said. “It could be fear that they don’t know where I am, I need to check in. It might be fear of spending money.”

Anyone who needs immediate assistance or knows someone who does can call the Florida Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.500.1119, TDD at 800.621.4202 or the Harbor House 24 Hour Hotline at 407.886.2856

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