Domestic violence victims: Help is available

Counselors, police want victims to know help is available



Debra Fears is an advocate to those suffering from domestic violence and even serves on the board of an agency offering help to domestic-violence victims. But a mere three years ago, the advocate was the victim.

With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, domestic-violence counselors and local police want the public to hear similar stories and know that there is help for the abused.

Malinda Gavins, program director for domestic-violence services at Sojourner House in Youngstown, has worked with victims of domestic violence for years. She said October has to be a time to inform the masses.

“October is an opportunity to do public awareness for domestic violence but also honor those survivors of domestic violence and let those in domestic-violence situations know they don’t have to stay in that situation. We also honor those who lost their lives,” she said.

Gavins said Sojourner House served more than 150 women and children in need of shelter because of domestic-violence situations in 2008. An additional 200 women were given the assistance of an advocate in court.

“We know this is just a small percentage in the county. A lot of crimes go unreported because too many people still believe domestic violence is a private or family matter,” she said.

According to Youngstown Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin-Casey, the Youngstown Police Department began its Crisis Intervention Unit in 1995 to combat the belief that domestic violence is a personal issue and let victims know there are organizations such as Sojourner House that will offer help.

In recent years, under Police Chief Jimmy Hughes, the Crisis Intervention Unit has been combined with the juvenile division and renamed the Family Services Investigative Unit.

According to Baldwin-Casey, reports of domestic violence in the early days of the CIU were above 3,000 annually. She said a high volume of complaints at that time was good because it meant more people were seeking help through the police department and thus learning about other agencies that could help with domestic situations.

Baldwin-Casey said domestic-violence complaints in 2008 were at about 770 with a total of a little more than 1,000 domestic-violence-related incidents that same year. She said there have been 559 domestic-violence complaints to date in 2009 and 718 domestic-violence-related incidents in the same period.

Baldwin-Casey said the decrease in reported incidents shows that the program is meeting its goal.

“The goal of the unit when it was created was to create this networking with other agencies because there were so many other issues related to domestic violence such as alcohol abuse, mental- health issues all relating to domestic violence,” she said. “People are using other agencies to address those needs.”

Fears was one of the people using available programs to address domestic violence.

Fears, 53, said she was mentally abused for years after getting married in 1996. She stayed married until 2006, when a heated argument with her husband landed her in the county jail for a night and Sojourner House in the morning.

Fears said she learned what mental abuse is and how to avoid it. She also learned, through various programs, how to become independent and is now giving back to those programs as a board member at Sojourner House.

Baldwin-Casey, Fears and Gavins agree that a key element to preventing domestic violence, and a cornerstone of the educational process during domestic-violence month, is reaching younger people. Gavins said young people need to understand that possessive, aggressive behavior and violence are not cute things and have no place in a relationship.

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