What emotions do you associate with the holidays?
For children it’s often excitement. If you have recently lost a loved one, sadness may dominate. Unfortunately, the dominant feeling for too many Forest Park women will be fear because they are victims of domestic violence.
The sad reality is that millions of Americans are affected by abuse from people they live with. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
Sarah’s Inn, an agency headquartered in Forest Park, serves the needs of victims, often referred to as survivors, of domestic violence. Their statistics regarding services provided for 2016 — the most recent year referred to on their website — reveal the extent of the problem in our area:
• 1,450 survivors received counseling
• 605 survivors, helped by legal advocates, obtained 626 orders of protection
• 250 children who witnessed violence received free counseling
Counterintuitively, statistics reveal that calls to emergency hotlines do not spike during the holidays.
“Domestic violence does not stop during the holidays,” said Carol Gall, director of Sarah’s Inn. “Like with any family having issues, the holidays are a time when we can see a lull in people reaching out for help, as they want to get through the holidays, especially if they have children.”
“Immediately following the holidays,” however, “we tend to see an uptick in the number of calls and people reaching out.”
The National Institutes of Health notes that domestic violence is all about power. Constance Morris House, which keeps the location of its shelter “undisclosed,” is the other agency in our area that serves the needs of survivors. The Constance Morris website states, “Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior that one person exercises over another to gain power and control.”
Gall noted that this imbalance of power might also explain a victim’s resistance to reaching out. “Perpetrators of abuse use verbal abuse, manipulation, and threats to exert their power and control over their partner, breaking down their self-esteem and self-worth, and making them feel as if they have no other options.”
Money is another way abusers try to control victims. “One family,” Gall recalled, “came to us after years of experiencing verbal and emotional abuse from their spouse, afraid that they would lose everything financially if they left their abusive partner and were not be able to provide for their children, and Sarah’s Inn helped them with emergency financial support for first and last month’s rent and provided food and toiletries from our pantry.”
A list of signs of abuse included on the Constance Morris website says that perpetrators are often extremely jealous and possessive, attempt to isolate their victims from friends and family, and destroy personal property.
Gall told the story of “another victim who arrived at our front door with a car that had been vandalized by their abusive partner so that they could not leave and Sarah’s Inn provided them with emergency financial support, towing their car and having it fixed so they could have safe transportation to their job.”
Lauren Pagan, director of Domestic Violence Advocacy at Constance Morris House, speculated that the lower-than-expected number of emergency hotline calls may be due to the fact that leaving a relationship, even if it is abusive, is often experienced as a loss to be grieved.
The experience at Morris House, she added, is that use of their legal services tends to increase after the holidays when survivors seek orders of protection.
The police are often the first responders to come on the scene in cases of domestic violence.
“One family,” Gall said, “was linked to us through a local police department after the victim experienced severe physical injuries that landed them in the hospital and we supported them in finding safe housing while they healed physically and began their emotional healing journey.”
Forest Park Deputy Chief of Police Ken Gross noted that dealing with domestic violence takes an emotional toll on his officers. And the existence of four cribs at the Constance Morris emergency shelter is a reminder that abuse affects children as well as adults.
“Acts of domestic violence taking place in the presence of children,” said Gross, “are particularly upsetting for our officers, along with the awareness that witnessing these events is possibly teaching children a pattern of abuse that they may carry on or accept in relationships as they mature.”
Regarding legal action, or the lack of it, Gross said, “I think the greatest frustration that officers feel is when a domestic violence arrest is made and the victim does not follow through with court proceedings. It also is upsetting to repeatedly go to an address where domestic violence is reported with no solution to the ongoing troubles.”
UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, attempts to help women in abusive relationships by reminding them that they are often not completely helpless. Their website says, “If you think you are being abused, seek help.” These tips provide guidance on how to find safety and support:
• Consider sharing your concerns with a trusted friend, family member or neighbor
• Develop an escape strategy
• If possible, keep your telephone always charged
• Talk with someone who has been trained to help by calling a local helpline.
• Try to identify patterns in your partner’s use and level of violence.
Both Sarah’s Inn and Constance Morris House have extensive programs and trained staff which are available to women, and sometimes men, who are caught in abusive relationships. In addition, Morris House has an emergency shelter with 20 beds and four cribs.
Who to call
If you are being abused, call 911 if it is an emergency, or one of the following hotlines for support, referrals and information:
708-386-4225 Sarah’s Inn
708-485-5254 Constance Morris House
800-799-SAFE (7233) National Domestic Violence Hotline