Demers: Explaining the purple ribbons

By JAN DEMERS

She was rocking back and forth in the chair: an adult holding a teddy bear weeping as she rocked.

I was working as the director of the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in upstate New York.

“I’ve lost everything,” she said.

And she had. She was alone with no income having left a violent husband and was living in our shelter. There was no sugar coating what she had lost and no getting it back. What she hadn’t lost was herself, and that is where we had our conversation. She was starting a new life. It was frightening but for now, she was safe and her life was her own.

October just marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Perhaps you saw people wearing purple ribbons to call attention to the issue.

There are three programs offering safety to the victims of this crime in our area: Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity’s Voices Against Violence in Franklin/Grand Isle Counties, 802-524-6575; Steps to End Domestic Violence in Chittenden County 802-658-1996; and Women Safe in Addison County 802-388-4205.

Here’s a statistic from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94 percent of the victims of these crimes are female.

Voices Against Violence is a program for those fleeing or facing violence in their homes. Over the past year it’s provided services to 527 adults and 114 children. Laurie’s House, Voices Shelter, provided emergency housing and safety to 56 families for a total of 3,446 bed nights.  The supervised visitation program “All About Kids” has a waiting list and is now open six days a week. This program offers a safe place for children to be with a parent when both parents cannot be in the same place together.

It was 3 a.m. I was awakened by the shrill tone of my pager. I had hotline coverage. I was patched through to a woman who was calling from a corner in her basement. She couldn’t leave. She wanted to talk, just talk. Through whispered tones she wanted someone to hear her. We went over some ways to keep her safer. I never knew her name but I could feel her fear.

Another statistic from the National Coalition: On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines receive approximately 21,000 calls. That’s nearly 15 calls every minute on average.

Why does it seem it is always at night? A family needed to be transported to a safe place. I got the call from the police station a little after midnight and rushed over to get a mom and two young children. Looking to see that we weren’t followed, they got in the car and we made the 30-minute trip to the shelter. We were greeted by the shelter manager and we put the children to sleep for the night.

From the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence: “Violence isn’t just something that happens between two people. Our culture of violence impacts every one of us. While providing direct services for survivors and perpetrators is essential, if we want to end violence we must also work to change our culture.”

It’s more than just wearing a purple ribbon. But it can start there.

Jan F. Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, 862-2771 ext. 740 or jdemers@cvoeo.org.

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