CAPE CORAL, Fla. — An issue that often puts many lives on the line is on the rise.
ACT, or Abuse Counseling and Treatment, is an organization in Southwest Florida that has seen increased firsthand.
"All across the country, agencies like ours are reporting about a 50 percent increase in domestic violence. Local law enforcement has been reporting huge increases," said ACT Community Education Coordinator Megan Dalabes.
Records from the Cape Coral Police Department show that they'd already gotten about 2700 calls for incidents related to domestic violence by September of this year.
That's about 400 more calls they'd gotten by the same time last year.
CCPD thinks the increase is directly linked to the pandemic.
"People are inside a lot of people lost their jobs. Some are using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate to get over their depression or whatever mental anxiety they are having," said CCPD Master Sgt. Patrick O'Grady.
And the Clinical Director at ACT local agrees.
"Domestic violence most definitely thrives in isolation and secrecy. So, the pandemic is a perfect scenario for abuse to thrive," said Kimberly Perez.
What does domestic violence look like?
They say it's never too late to love.
And for one Southwest Florida woman, her long-awaited solo love story comes after years of pain in partnership.
"It did start this way. In hindsight, what you mistake for love is manipulation and control," she said.
For safety reasons, we've disguised her voice, and we won't share her real name, instead, we'll call her "Paula."
She tells FOX 4 that after decades of psychological abuse, she left in the middle of a pandemic.
"He had done something very personal to me. And something just clicked that he's not going to change, and the only person that can change is myself," said Paula.
And she says thankfully, she didn't have to do it alone.
"ACT helped me get the confidence, they gave me the strength," she said.
Megan Dalabes says that when it comes to domestic violence, people only picture cases that involve physical violence.
"Domestic violence is actually about control," she said.
It's a type of control that can also be financial, mental, or emotional. And it can range from someone constantly putting you down or withholding attention to them damaging your credit and stealing your money.
The Clinical Director at ACT says psychological abuse is often the most damaging.
"I have heard survivors of psychological abuse say, 'I wish he would just hit me, so people would believe I am being abused,'" said Kimberly Perez.
And it doesn't just happen to women.
Perez says one in four women and one in ten men have reported some form of domestic violence.
"The numbers may be much higher for men, but when it comes to stereotypes and men feeling like they have to be 'strong.' 'Men don't get abused.' And they fear being viewed as weak," said Perez.
Now...what about leaving?
Both Perez and Dalabes say that may not be the right answer for everyone.
"They may have a genuine fear, and remaining in that relationship may be what's keeping them alive," said Perez. "Instead of asking why survivors stay, we need to be, why do abusers abuse? It's a public health concern."
To help survivors decide what's best for them, ACT also helps with restraining orders, shelter, child-care, counseling, and safety planning.
"So, there's a lot of dynamics at play that make leaving not the perfect answer. So, we're here to support someone in whatever decision they make," said Dalabes.
Dalabes also adds that the most important thing we can do, pandemic or not, is to know the signs and support survivors as a community.
"So, we want to remain open and available as a community to still be available to support them," she said.
And for survivors out there, Paula wants to leave you with this message:
"Reach out, and there's help," she said.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call act at 239-939-3113 or click here for the ACT website.