SafeHomes of Augusta provides multiple services to the victims of domestic violence and the children of these victims. The services include an emergency shelter, a crisis hotline, legal advocacy, support groups (crisis and options counseling), relocation assistance and parenting/life skills training. Serving 10 Georgia counties, this non-profit organization assists hundreds of victims every year with an astonishingly bare-bones operating staff of 12. To be here—to be part of this team—truly indicates commitment and strength.
Between 2,000 and 4,000 people are killed each year in the United States in domestic violence incidents and most of them die after breaking off a relationship with the killer. The issue is massive, serious and deserves all the publicity it can get.
SafeHomes came about following the formation of an informal coalition of women in Augusta who collectively sought to determine how best to help women who were victims of domestic violence. As indicated on the SafeHomes website, the issue of domestic violence was not addressed in an effective, comprehensive manner at that time—in fact in 1979, domestic violence was invisible. There were no services in the community available to women who were being abused in their homes. Following this discovery, the group of women marshaled the required resources to open the first SafeHomes shelter in 1983. Since that time, the shelter and SafeHomes of Augusta has extended its services from 80 women annually, to assisting many hundreds of people each year.
Domestic violence, or DV, is not exclusively restricted to married women and SafeHomes acknowledges this by providing services that address intimate partner violence; regardless of race, creed, gender, age or sexual orientation, if you are a victim of violence you can get help from this remarkable group of women. And providing that service to all and anyone addresses the first of many misconceptions; everybody can be a victim and anyone can be an abuser.
Meghann Eppenbrock of SafeHomes spoke to me about domestic violence, where the organization is heading and how we can all address the issue. “Just getting the word out that we are here is a challenge that we’re trying to meet. It doesn’t matter who you are—civilian or military—anybody who is a victim of domestic violence can call us. Our mission is to transform victims of domestic violence into survivors, that’s it – and our services try to build that foundation so that they can become survivors.
One of the biggest judgments of domestic violence that is asked of victims is, “why do you stay? He (or she) hits you. He or she talks bad to you.” It’s not that simple, says Meghann, “Violence isn’t just about someone being knocked out. We always say a victim is beat down before they are ever beat up.” She further explains that victims often withstand abuse because of the expectations they had going into their relationship—no matter what it might be, or who you are—when a person enters into a relationship, they have a dream of how life is going to be with that other person. Even if the expectations are of a hot, heated romance for a couple of months, everyone has preconceptions and visions of how they want their life to be with an intimate partner. When someone is going through that relationship and it isn’t meeting those expectations, or it isn’t turning out to be like that dream, it is hard to abandon it.
For people with children, the situation is more complex still – how simple is it to say “Okay, I’m going to pack up and leave” when a child is involved? For many of us, it wouldn’t be because we want our children to grow up knowing their mother or father.
Other challenges often arise in instances of DV, such as when the violence has affected the ability to maintain independence from a partner. “What happens if that person has been cut off from having a job? How can they support themselves or their children if they do leave? It’s not as simple as packing up and heading out the door to a new life,” says Meghann, “What is a person supposed to do – if they feel like they have nowhere to turn, they are going to stay.”
Victims often blame their situation on themselves due to shame and embarrassment. One client who is a survivor told Meghann that she would never have thought that she would find herself in that situation; she was a strong, independent woman who knew what DV was and to stay away from it, but when you talk about love it really puts a wrench in the works and it makes it so much harder.
So what do you do if you suspect someone you care about is in a potentially violent relationship, or is being abused? The answer – don’t come at them from a place of judgment. Judging someone’s situation essentially cuts off a life-line for that person because judging doesn’t help anyone. It puts the victim on the defensive and heightens the feeling of isolation since it appears that nobody understands, or can understand, the situation the victim is in. The best action to take is to be of practical assistance; provide the victim with a list of resources, be direct about their needs and show that support and help is available every step of the way.
As with many “hot” topics, domestic violence is itself a victim of social stigma. Mostly, this is due to the fact that intimate partner violence delves into the personal lives of individuals and many of us have a problem with interfering in another person’s business. Addressing such an issue head-on means causing conflict and that is scary for all of us. To address this taboo, education is the way forward—educating people as to what signs to look out for, the non-verbal indicators and how to approach people in a way that will help.
Domestic violence is one of the most under-reported issues and that creates another set of problems—statistics are inaccurate indications of the scale of the problem nationwide. People don’t want to talk about it – it isn’t a disease, there are no socio-economic indicators to pinpoint where the problem stems from or genetic markers that can flag an abuser or a victim. Domestic violence can happen to anyone and it does. The fallout of DV can be felt through generations, affecting relationships with family members and creating communication or trust issues. Sometimes it takes a victim and their family members a lifetime to resolve these issues and sometimes the much-needed healing process doesn’t happen at all.
Another misconception is that women are the only victims of domestic violence. SafeHomes assists everybody and has seen its fair share of male victims, as well as the children that are innocently embroiled within a violent home. It has addressed the need for support groups for men and has just started up a group specifically designed to help these men who are often even more reluctant that women to come forward about their experiences, or are reluctant to ask for help. Again, the stigma attached to men admitting that their partner abuses them is huge—it is important for men to accept that they are not any less of a man if they admit they need help. Society often paints a picture of male dominance and strength, but Meghann is excited to be in a position to reach out to this often maligned population. The group meets twice a month and a confidential phone call to SafeHomes will provide the man with the information he needs to attend or receive help. Contributors are needed and Meghann made it clear that any speakers would be greatly appreciated.
SafeHomes’ services are all free, including legal advocacy such as obtaining temporary protective orders, which are similar to restraining orders but provide more protection. Options counseling is also available due to the organization’s connections with local education establishments that provide interns who are obtaining their counseling degrees. Financial assistance, transportation assistance and relocation assistance are also provided. “We’ve had clients come to us and they are not safe in Augusta so we work with the police departments and get the victim to another shelter that might be in-state or out-of-state. We will help with that.” If the shelter is full, SafeHomes is able to pull from grant funds to ensure the victim is put in paid accommodations such as a hotel for a couple of days. These efforts are extensive, admirably well-coordinated and dealt with sensitively and practically in order to protect lives, to help the client regain their sense of self and the confidence that they need to start over.
Starting over though requires a commitment of a different kind than that found in the staff of SafeHomes—it requires a commitment on the part of the client to accept change is really needed. Victims of abuse are psychologically similar to addicts in that the cycle of abuse becomes something intrinsically central to their lives. They are already focused on dealing with their situation, but it is often in an unhealthy way such as insisting their partner will change or that things will get better. For those escaping their home to stay at the shelter, sustained assistance only comes with a demonstrated determination and commitment to improving a situation on the behalf of the client. If they are meeting their goals, if they are doing what they can to find alternate housing and employment if they need it, all the paperwork and they are responsible community housemates, SafeHomes will extend an individual’s stay beyond the ordinary 30 days. The other services are always available for an unlimited period of time.
Ultimately, intimate partner violence is a set of behaviors used to control someone, to do their bidding. But those set of behaviors can themselves be controlled – abusers can and will control their behavior. After all, they can be specific about targeting points of the body to hit, pinch or punch that won’t reveal bruises or wounds; they can be violent with the mother but not the child; they can be fine at work but come home angry. The element of control is the leading reason for the other aspects of DV; the intimidation and the isolation. Abusers isolate their victims because if you don’t have your friends and family around you anymore, then there’s nobody around you to see what’s going on and there’s no one to reach out to and help.
Which leads me to my final point. SafeHomes may be the saving grace of many hundreds of people, but it cannot operate and does not operate in a vacuum. It needs help too. SafeHomes can provide the tools, but in order for it to succeed, its clients must make the first step and the public must be more vocal and become more educated. We need to say that no, it is not okay to abuse your partner. It is not okay to try to control another person or to intimidate them. If you are a girl, it is not okay to get in a guy’s face or smack them around. If you are a guy, it is not okay to hit a woman because you saw another guy do it. And lastly, there is no shame in picking up the phone and calling (706) 736-2499 or 1-800-33-HAVEN.
Bringing an end to domestic violence starts with seeing the signs. Often, those being abused will try to hide the fact out of fear or a belief that things will get better. If you or a loved one is being abused, you need to recognize the signs. It may be the only way to break the cycle of violence and possibly save lives.
Does Your Partner:
- Embarrass you with bad names and insults?
- Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
- Control what you do, where you go, or who you see and talk to?
- Prevent you from getting or keeping a job?
- Control your money or social security?
- Make all the decisions?
- Call you a bad parent or threaten to take away your children?
- Downplay, deny, or blame abuse on you?
- Threaten to harm your children or pets?
- Intimidate you with weapons?
- Shove, slap, or hit you?
- Force you to drop charges?
- Threaten suicide if you leave?
If you answer yes to even just one, you may be in an abusive relationship. Seek help.
24 Hour Crisis Line, Emergency Shelter, Legal Advocacy and Confidential Weekly Support Groups as well as the following:
- Children’s’ Program
- Crisis and Options Counseling
- Helping Victims Of Domestic Violence Break Through Barriers
- Emergency Financial Assistance
- Parenting and Life Skills Classes
- Outreach to Rural Counties
- Referrals for Food, Clothing & Housing
- T.I.P.S. Program (Teens & Dating Violence)