“If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms, and it would be the lead story on the news every night.”
- Former Rep. Mark Green, Wisconsin
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so let’s talk numbers. In the first half of 2011, the National Domestic Violence Hotline referred over 66,000 callers to domestic violence service providers. Of those calls, 1,144 were from Oregon, and 486 of them from Portland.
But that is not the whole story by a long shot; a National Violence Against Women survey conducted in 2000 suggests that only one in four women who are physically assaulted by a domestic, or intimate partner, call the authorities and report the assault.
Why do only a fraction of victims make the call and report the abuse? Many are simply afraid that nothing will be done and their abuser will just get angrier. Others are afraid that their report will send their family into the family court system, traumatize their children, and not adequately address the crime of the assault. Still others do not let anyone know about their abuse because they are ashamed of what has happened to them, or they are financially unable to provide for themselves and their children.
So they stay and hope it doesn’t happen again. When it does, they still stay, thinking at least their children have food and a roof over their heads. Sadly, many will pay too high a price. The America Bar Association cites U.S. Department of Justice statistics that between 1998 and 2002, 83 percent of spousal murders, and 75 percent of dating murders, were committed by males.
In addition, the ABA references a survey stating “34 percent of women were victims of sexual coercion by a husband or intimate partner in their lifetime.” It happens to younger women also; it is estimated that one in five high school girls report having been physically or sexually assaulted by a boyfriend or dating partner. One in five!
What is domestic violence? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it “describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.”
It is a situation in which one person seeks to control and dominate the other. It happens with married couples, unmarried couples, same sex couples, and dating couples. It happens to teens, adults, and senior citizens — often by adult children caretakers.
The term ‘intimate partner violence’ is being used more and more because, according to Emmy Ritter, Director of Programs and Services for Raphael House of Portland, “the domestic violence label is limiting in that it can be seen as only spousal situations, though we use it in the field pretty universally. Often someone from the LBGTQ community will not seek services or identify with the ‘DV’ as it does not fit who they are, just as with teens or other dating situations. We, as a community, want to open our doors as best we can, to prevent, educate and provide safety for all victims and survivors of relationship violence.”
The mission of Raphael House of Portland, in operation since 1977, is “Providing a foundation of hope to women and children escaping family violence.” They serve Portland-area survivors of intimate partner violence in a variety of ways including confidential emergency shelter, a 24-hour in-house crisis line, transitional housing, advocacy and safety planning. In addition,
Raphael House works in partnership with the Portland Police Domestic Violence Response Unit, providing advocacy and support for those outside of the emergency shelter. For those in need of emergency shelter, Raphael House has four confidential sites in the Portland area, with a total of eleven rooms available to women and children escaping a dangerous domestic situation. Ten of the rooms are for mothers and their children, and one room is available for individuals without children, and is shared with another single person.
Raphael House shelters approximately 30 percent of the survivors escaping violent domestic situations in the Portland metropolitan area. Each year, there are 120–130 families seeking emergency housing at Raphael House, and each family can stay up to sixty days. The shelters are run by staff members and volunteers, who assist residents with clothing, food, emotional support, and activities for children. Professional advocates provide case management, and help residents with housing, jobs, school concerns, safety planning for the family, and parenting skills.
Often, children who have been witness to domestic violence, or who have also been victims of abuse, will act out in the shelter environment. When the parent does not have the skill set necessary to discipline children without resorting to spanking, it can be a challenge.
Raphael House has a policy of non-violence, and one of the responsibilities of being in shelter is that parents are asked not to use “spanking, yelling, threatening or other types of violent discipline” with their children. According to a Raphael House board report, for one young family in shelter, “it was clear that the entire family was quite traumatized and struggling. Her sons had a lot of aggressive behaviors … She identified that spanking had been a discipline technique that her abuser had forced her to use with her boys. While in shelter, the mother has gotten connected with additional parenting support and accessed respite childcare and Youth Program groups. During their two months with us we have seen a dramatic decrease in aggressive behaviors from the boys. The mother is practicing parenting techniques that don’t involve spanking, including time outs and clear communication with the boys about expectations.”
Sadly, sometimes victims of intimate partner violence need emergency shelter assistance more than once, because, according to Ms. Ritter, “(they) find themselves in a new controlling/violent relationship.” When that happens, Ritter continues, “They can return to Raphael House after two months. We have had many returning families. Abusers are persistent, coercive and powerful in these families’ lives especially when there are little to no resources. We know this is a long process for some women and the opportunity for change and safety in our space looks different each time.” For these women and children, it can be especially difficult to find themselves in danger again, but at Raphael House they find compassionate staff and volunteers.
One client‘s housing situation after leaving Raphael House was compromised when, she says, she, “was found by my abuser’s family. This made me very scared because they were very angry with me for testifying against their brother and having him put in jail due to the severe abuse that I went through with him. I ended up having to leave my friend’s home out of fear and found myself without a job and without housing again. I called the shelters and once again I ended up here at Raphael House.”
Her advocate was able to help her find an apartment where she was able to stay for two years while putting her life back together for herself and her son. Even after leaving the emergency shelter, families can continue to utilize the other services that Raphael House provides, to get their family on firm, safe footing in a new environment.
To mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Raphael House is sponsoring two events in the Portland area. The first is the Founders Dinner on Friday, October 5, at the University Club of Portland. The dinner is a free event, emceed by KGW morning co-anchor Brenda Braxton. The dinner celebrates Raphael House’s 35 years of shelter work in Portland.
The second event, also at the University Club of Portland, is the Women in Leadership Luncheon on Wednesday, October 24, emceed by Barb Bloom of Bullard Law, with a keynote speech by Lisa Schroeder of Mother’s Bistro and Bar. Tickets for the luncheon are $35 each and can be purchased on the Raphael House Web site.
Raphael House is dedicated to educating the community about domestic and intimate partner violence; their Education Program provides free training presentations to middle and high schools, businesses, community organizations, parent groups, healthcare and childcare providers and more. As a nonprofit, they rely on the generosity of donors, both large and small, and on the helping hands of their many volunteers.
If you’d like to help, there are several ways. You can donate clothing, food, hygiene supplies, toys and more at Sunnyside Centenary United Methodist Church on the first and third Thursdays of the month; you can find out more about volunteering at the shelters, or join their Community Ambassadors Speakers’ Bureau; or host an educational event in your home with a fundraising house party for Raphael House.
Now that we know the statistics, let’s get up in arms and help bring an end to the violence. But let our arms be open in order to provide comfort, assistance, knowledge, and power.