October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
To say that the year 2020 has been a challenging one is a vast understatement. But with all of the adversity we are facing, it is clear that our communities still have an enormous capacity to look out for the common good. At 360 Communities, we have seen it with increased volunteerism, financial support, and awareness of the needs in Dakota County. Communities are healthy when we work together to ensure safety and stability for all people.
Critical issues are competing for our attention, including homelessness, hunger, academic upheaval, racial inequity, unemployment, and political polarization. Another concern often lies in the shadows but deserves focused awareness during this pandemic: domestic violence.
Victims of domestic abuse are particularly vulnerable during this time. Abuse can get exacerbated by the need to quarantine and maintain social distance. Victims have fewer opportunities to reach out for help and get separation from violence when they are at home with their abusers more during the pandemic.
What does it look like?
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a third of all women and a quarter of all men suffer intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
Domestic violence cuts across socio and economic lines and includes a variety of abuses. At the center of domestic violence is the abuser’s need for power and control. They maintain dominance in a variety of ways, including emotional, physical, and financial abuse. NCADV reports that, “between 40 and 45 percent of women in abusive relationships will also be sexually assaulted during the course of the relationship.”
Victims can feel trapped and powerless by the abuse. The pandemic has introduced additional economic hardship and tension in homes. With families sheltering in place, victim isolation is greater, and abusers take advantage of the circumstances to maintain power and control. Victims often suffer hits to their self-esteem, experience post-traumatic stress, or lack financial independence.
It happens here
Intimate partner violence turns lethal every year in Minnesota. Between 1989 and 2018, at least 685 Minnesotans were murdered in domestic violence incidents, according to Violence Free Minnesota. About 130 of those victims were bystanders, interveners, or acquaintances. Five hundred and twenty-three victims were women.
This year abusers have murdered at least 22 Minnesotans, including Lauren Summer Koffi-n’guessan, 22, who was shot and killed by her boyfriend on September 4th in West St. Paul. Each one of these deaths is a tragedy that leaves lasting harmful effects in our communities. We must do better and eliminate domestic violence. All of us have a role to play in ensuring the safety and well-being of our neighbors.
Relationships are complicated, and abuse within a relationship adds a whole other terrible dimension to that complexity. 360 Communities’ focus is on stopping the abuse. This involves helping victims see their situations more clearly and understanding their options. It entails detailed safety planning and behavioral change. It sometimes means leaving the relationship.
Leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for victims because abusers, losing control, can lash out violently. Experts in violence prevention and intervention can help victims create a safety plan and access critical resources.
360 Communities is here to help
360 Communities delivers safety and stability that improves lives. We help about 3,000 people annually with safe shelter, advocacy, safety planning, counseling, and connections to community resources. Each year, about 500 women and children stay at our Lewis House domestic and sexual violence shelters. About half of the shelter residents are children. Lewis House residents and other community members participate in support groups and learn about healthy relationships and red flags to watch for in order to stay safe. 360 Communities Lewis House is also part of a coalition of shelters using hotel space for overflow and quarantining options.
360 Communities has the expertise to help families experiencing domestic violence. We have Lewis House advocates who walk alongside families staying in our shelters and outreach advocates in ten law enforcement agencies who offer a direct connection to support. This past year our advocates have assisted victims/survivors with filing 8,125 Harassment Restraining Orders and Orders for Protection. Two of our advocates are handlers for our victim support dogs Ranger and Coco. Ranger and Coco offer comfort, easing the stress when victims/survivors report abuse to law enforcement or testify in court.
Since January, we have delivered 62 presentations in the community, educating the public about domestic and sexual violence. 360 Communities has educational resources on our website and online support groups to ensure victims have additional avenues to safety during the pandemic.
What can you do?
You can make a difference and help victims/survivors forge a new path in life. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call (651) 452-7288 or visit 360Communities.org for resources. 360 Communities will support victims/survivors as well as their family and friends.
On October 28th, we will host a Zoom webinar on domestic violence where you can learn more. Register in advance for the webinar here: http://bit.ly/360DVWebinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation e-mail containing information about joining the webinar.
Domestic violence is complicated, and getting involved can feel uncomfortable. Remember, you don’t have to be the expert … we are. However, you may be that only critical connection to life-saving support. We are here and ready to help.