By Sarah Plummer
“Back in the old days, you didn’t talk about domestic violence,” said Women’s Resource Center director Patricia Bailey. “It is still an ugly subject, but it is way past time we talked about it openly.”
The key is education, she said, from doing prevention education in schools (just one of the many services the center provides), to making sure every citizen is aware of domestic violence and knows what resources are available to victims.
The Women’s Resource Center, which has been helping both male and female victims of domestic violence since 1983, is the largest shelter in West Virginia, one of 14 licensed domestic violence programs, one of nine rape crisis centers, and one of seven child visitation and exchange centers.
The center acts as a temporary emergency shelter, offering crisis advocacy, case management, individual and group counseling, therapy for sexual assault victims, court advocacy, referral to other agencies like the Department of Health and Human Resources, and a wide variety of other supports, she said.
Women at the center sometimes need help attaining a GED, finding permanent housing, learning basic job skills or learning computer skills, Bailey said.
Bailey said issues of domestic violence have been in the public’s eye after the recent conviction of Christopher Bowling for murdering his wife Tresa in January 2010.
The trial, over the summer of 2011, held the attention of southern West Virginia.
Bailey attended the trial each day.
“One reason education and intervention is so important is because what we don’t want is another death, and another death, and another death,” she stressed. “In this case the perpetrator was held accountable for the crime, but the problem is I don’t want women to die.”
She said West Virginia ranks 14th in the nation for domestic violence homicides and is tied in 12th place for domestic violence homicides with handguns.
“Seventeen years after The Violence Against Women Act was passed, women are still dying from domestic violence. We want action to be taken and for women to know there is help available and where to get it,” she said. “We want friends, neighbors and co-workers to know where help is available so if they have a friend who does not feel like they have any options, they can say, ‘Yes, there are options and this is where you can go for help.’”
The Bowling trial brought to the public eye several aspects of domestic violence, including the fact that the violence is often not connected to anger, but about power and control over others, she said.
Often to wield control, abuse is set down through threats, coercion, isolation, intimidation and fear.
“We saw in the Bowling trial that
Tresa knew there was help available, but she was too afraid to get that help because of the threats and intimidation,” she explained.
“It is always easy for us to say, ‘If it were me, I’d be out of there,’ but there are good reasons victims stay. If you don’t work, how are you going to support your kids? If you’ve been told you are worthless, how can you feel worthy enough to leave?”
Bailey also noted that abusers often make victims stay by threatening to keep children.
“We mothers have a tendency to feel like we can take whatever happens to us but cannot stand the thought of being without our children or something happening to them. But people don’t realize the damage that is done to children who grow up in a home where violence is present,” she explained. “Children will never know what healthy relationships are and they are less likely to be in one. And kids don’t deserve that; they deserve better.”
Bailey stressed that aside from education and prevention, it is important for abusers to be held accountable under the law. If abusers are not held accountable, abusive behavior will never stop.
She finds it disappointing that, at times, the public does not see perpetrators being punished, but “at least if victims come to us for help, we can tell them what their rights are under the law,” she stressed.
And because Bailey knows that most men are not abusers, her biggest hope in the next year is to get more men involved in the fight to end violence against women.
“Men care what other men think about them. Just to have a man step forward and tell his friend that his actions have to stop or there are going to be consequences can go a long way to stop abuse,” she said.
“Abusers know that what they do is wrong. They don’t go into a restaurant and slap the waitress because she spills coffee. Why is that? Because they know they can’t. They know it is wrong. They know if they did they would go to jail,” she added. “Letting others know that violence against women will not be tolerated is a good way to stand behind what we do.”
To contact the Women’s Resource Center crisis hotline for support or assistance, call 304-255-2559 or toll free at 888-825-7836.
More information is available online at www.wrcwv.org.
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