BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – A dangerous side effect of COVID-19 is the greater chance for child abuse and domestic violence.
South Carolina has been in the top 10 states for domestic violence rates for nearly two decades.
The Palmetto State’s domestic homicide rates are nearly 1.5 times the national average.
It’s a problem Hopeful Horizons has been battling for years, and one experts say isn’t going away anytime soon.
“We have seen a significant increase in people who are dealing with domestic violence,” explained Hopeful Horizons CEO Kristen Dubrowski. “We served approximately 50% more people in our shelter program this year than in prior years. That’s more folks than we have served in a single year.”
“We have seen a lot more situations that have seemed more lethal. More physical abuse and more threats of violence,” she added.
In South Carolina, more than 41% of women and 17% of men will experience domestic violence, abuse as a child or adult, or stalking.
“We are already working with victims who have already experienced trauma, and then there’s the trauma of the pandemic on top of that,” said Dubrowski.
Hopeful Horizons works to address victims’ basic needs of housing or transitional housing. The organization is also focused on victims who are having trouble reaching out for assistance because of the pandemic and close quarters it has created their abusers.
“It’s more difficult for people to reach out for help,” Dubrowski said. “Victims being trapped at home with abusers, there is no respite for them.”
Dubrowski says Hopeful Horizons has already seen more than 1,300 victims or people in need of help this year.
There has been a decline in the number of kids they have seen for child abuse. But that could be a sign of more kids out of school and learning at home. Already as students return to class, those numbers are going back up to close to pre-pandemic levels.
Hopeful Horizons is helping victims in five different Lowcountry counties and looking for different ways to do it.
One way is by turning their “crisis line” into a 24-hour “protection line,” so people know to call 843-770-1070 before it’s too late.
Another is offering more intimate and anonymous group sessions and online services.
“It’s easier for them to access online counseling through telehealth services,” said Dubrowski, “and not have to travel to get counseling services. For a lot of people, it’s been very beneficial.”
Still, Dubrowski says there are the victims who have limited to no access to technology or internet.
Hopeful Horizons has begun sending fliers out to the community with the phone number for help on them to make it easier.
The agency also plans to continue its prevention work in middle and high schools. Hopeful Horizons says it’s been very difficult to reach as many students as normal because of the pandemic, but the hope is as things loosen up, catching these kids early will identify victims or teach them early about the dangers of becoming an abuser themselves.
“That abusive behavior is passed on from one generation to the next,” explained Dubrowski. “The good news is we have a lot stronger dialogue in schools than 11 years ago when we started prevention efforts in those classes.”
That has helped take some of the stigma away, and giving victims hope for their future.
“Victims feel ashamed about feels like it is their fault and a lot what we do at Hopeful Horizons it to let them know its not their fault, let them come together voice to it,” Dubrowski said. “It is in that darkness and silence that this abuse is allowed to exist.”
The agency is doing all of this while dealing with funding issues.
For two straight years, their biggest fundraiser has been canceled. In addition, the funding from the victims of crime act was cut by 10% last year and 18% in 2020.
That is a more than $300,000 shortfall that funds the bulk of their services.
Grants have helped pick up some of the slack, but fundraisers they can do, like this weekend’s race, are key to allowing everyone to do their jobs and offer as much aid as possible.
The 2021 Hopeful Horizons Walk4Love Candlelight Walk will start at First Presbyterian Church, 1201 North Street, in downtown Beaufort. Starting time is 5:15 p.m. on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Race4Love will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Organizers say the course is flat and quick and offers a pleasant trip through the scenic neighborhoods and Sanctuary Golf Course on Cat Island — located at 8 Waveland Ave. in Beaufort.
The Race4Love fee is $30 with a $2.50 sign up fee.
Masks and physical distancing will be required at the events. Participants are also asked to pre-register.
To sign up for either of these races, visit here before the registration period ends on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 7:59 p.m.
If you are signing up with a group of five or more, click the “multi-person” tab on the page to get the discounted price.