This month, we celebrate Valentine's Day, and love is in the air.

Most would agree that love is a beautiful gift, but it isn't always easy.

Love can be difficult.

Love can be stressful.

Love can be heartbreaking.

But love is NEVER destructive.

In 2016, Florida law enforcement agencies received 105,668 domestic violence reports, according to the Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence. State of Florida data shows that there were 6,829 reported domestic violence offenses in Pinellas County alone, averaging 18.7 domestic violence offenses a day.

Sadly, these reports likely reflect only a fraction of the number of domestic violence instances that actually took place. Many domestic violence victims do not report their abusers due to shame, fear, or abuser interference.

In 2016, about 19% of reported domestic violence offenses in Florida were between spouses, and another 29% were between co-habitants, according to a Florida Statistical Analysis Center's uniform crime report.

These previously formed, seemingly positive relationships between victims and abusers make it easy for victims to justify the abuse as an accident or a one-time occurrence and to accept pledges that "it will never happen again" and promises of love.

But remember: Love is NEVER destructive.

This is not to say that intimate relationships - be they spousal, parental, sibling, child, etc. - will not experience their ups and downs. However, it is important to know the difference between healthy occasional discord and the physical and emotional volatility that characterize abuse. 

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors, such as intimidation, physical violence, emotional degradation, or economic manipulation, to establish power and control over an intimate partner. Its effects on victims extend beyond the obvious physical bruising and emotional scarring.

In the United States alone, intimate partner violence costs exceed $8.3 billion per year, including $5.8 billion in direct health care expenses and $2.5 billion in lost productivity, according to Forbes. This likely relates to that fact that among homeless mothers with children, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence, and between 22-57% of all homeless women reported that domestic violence was a leading cause of their homelessness, according to a Family and Youth Services Bureau report. Medically, women who have been physically abused are 80% more likely to experience a stroke and 70% more likely to have heart disease, according to a Centers for Disease Control report.

While the list of domestic violence's negative effects goes on, any abusive relationship you know about does not need to.

Pinellas County offers various free and confidential services for domestic violence victims, including victim advocate services, like those provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, a statewide domestic violence hotline (800-500-1119), and two local domestic violence shelters: Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) and The Haven of RCS.

CASA services southern Pinellas County, offering a 133-bed emergency shelter, support groups, and courtroom advocacy as well as operating the area's 24-hour hotline: 727-895-4912.

The Haven provides similar services for northern Pinellas County, including its own 24-hour hotline: 727-442-4128.

CASA and The Haven are both 501(C)3 charitable organizations that are always in need of donations and volunteers. Visit their websites for more information on how you can help.

As always, if you or someone you know is ever in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.

Spend this Valentine's Day celebrating the love in your life, eradicating unhealthy relationships, and learning to recognize the difference between the two.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 10:47:00 AM

Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911