Domestic violence survivor speaks out as officials say pandemic and holidays create perfect storm for violence

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Domestic violence calls are up around the holidays, and police say the pandemic is making matters worse.

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said these types of calls are more common during the months of November and December each year. However, he and local organizations like the YWCA agree that the pandemic paired with the holidays is creating a perfect storm for even more violence.

Jasmine Howell is recovering after surviving her ex-boyfriend’s abuse for years. She said it began as emotional abuse, which Howell said many victims don’t know how to recognize.

“I had a big ah-ha moment when I learned about what gaslighting was,” she told 8News.

Gaslighting is the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories and the events occurring around them. 

About four years into the abuse, Howell said it turned physical and more violent.

“I had been knocked out in 2017 from my abuser. Unfortunately I still stayed because I felt that he loved me and we have a home together and trying to build that foundation,” she said.

Jasmine Howell
“Just know that you are a person who deserves a life. You do not deserve to be hit, you do not deserve to be pushed, you do not deserve to be belittled,” said Jasmine Howell.

Howell explained that leaving a dangerous life is easier said than done for a majority of victims.

“You might not have the resources that you need to get away or get an apartment or another place to stay,” she said. “They may have some type of hold where you don’t have access to your funds the way you like to, you don’t have access to a car the way you’d like to.”

Eventually Howell said enough was enough.

“It comes to a point where you have to look beyond the love and know who you are as a person,” she said.

Now, Howell is taking her abuser to court while advocating for other survivors. That’s why she says a recent uptick in domestic violence cases in her home city, Richmond, is so concerning.

“I’ve spent many a day in here crying just off of another person’s story and trying to find a way, well [how] can I help,” Howell said.

Over the weekend Police said a 16-year-old in Richmond was shot to death by her boyfriend. On Tuesday night in Henrico, a child found their parents dead inside their home. Police believe that, too, is domestic related.

“We have seen a rise in the number of cases of domestic violence. 4 to 8 from last month to this month,” said Chief Smith.

On Monday, Richmond’s YWCA said they’ve seen a 25 percent increase in the number of calls for help now when compared to this time last year. They said the pandemic and holiday stresses create a perfect storm for domestic violence.

Howell has a piece of advice for people in danger:

“Just know that you are a person who deserves a life. You do not deserve to be hit, you do not deserve to be pushed, you do not deserve to be belittled.”

In addition, the YWCA’s CEO said that prevention is their “primary way to help alleviate the epidemic of domestic violence,” and urges people to reach out.

If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence or abuse the Richmond area, you can call the YWCA Greater Richmond Regional Hotline at 804-612-6126. The hotline manned 24/7, 365 day a year and is available to anyone who needs resources such as information, emergency shelter and emergency counseling.

Those who need help can also call the Virginia Statewide Hotline at 1-800-838-8328 or text 804-793-9999.

Safe Harbor also has an emergency shelter and hotline for counseling free of charge. The hotline is 804-612-6126.

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance has a shelter as well and hotline at 800-838-8238.

8News also caught up with the founder of G.R.O.W, a non-profit organization in the Chesapeake and Hampton roads area. In 2016, Neisha Himes started G.R.O.W, which stands for Girls Recognizing our Worth. The organization is also registered in New Jersey, where Himes is from.

“We work to connect families with resources needed to rebuild their lives after abuse,” she told 8News on Wednesday. She described the organization as one that “gets rid of the extra legwork” and does what they can to find immediate resources available to people. Himes is a survivor as well.

She recalled what it was like when shelters were full. “You’re told to call this number or that number, and it’s just really overwhelming… and discouraging,” she said.

“I remember calling a shelter for help and they told me I wasn’t consider imminent danger because I hadn’t been assaulted that night,” Himes said. “I was trying to prevent another assault.”

She urges people in New Jersey and the Chesapeake area community to reach out if they need assistance. “We’re here to help,” she said. “We’re small in size, big in heart.

If people want to help the organization succeed, they are welcoming volunteers and have a link to that on their website at http://growfoundationva.org/volunteer-with-g-r-o-w/

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