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Fleeing a violent relationship is easier said than done. The victims often abandoning their primary source of food, shelter and financial security. On top of those challenges, they’re likely coping with mental health, medical, legal and life skills problems. Some may even be struggling with substance abuse.

And if it weren’t for Valley Crisis Center, Hope’s Door, the Women’s and Children’s Alliance and other shelters like them, these victims would have nowhere to turn for help.

These facilities offer a safe place to stay, but also provide legal assistance, financial literacy and safety planning services.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for women, and men, who are victims of domestic abuse, especially when it is long-term abuse, is coping with the effects of trauma. Shelters help in this department too — the on-site counselor at Advocates Against Family Violence has conducted 387 counseling sessions this year alone.

Although the locations of most shelters are private, their employees want to make sure their services are accessible to anyone who needs them.

“What we provide does not need to be the best kept secret,” AAFV Executive Director Kim Ivacek said. “It needs to be on every billboard, every banner.”

— Charlotte Wiemerslage, local editor

Shelters provide more than safety

With local domestic violence shelters, creating a safe place for survivors is essential.

But security is only part of what women who find the courage to leave their abusers need.

Shelters in Nampa, Caldwell and Boise provide dozens of services to help abuse survivors thrive.

“This is the first step in their journey of reclaiming their lives,” Women’s and Children’s Alliance Deputy Director Bev La Chance said about abuse victims who come to her Boise shelter. “We are far more than a shelter. We are a program.”

When women leave their abusers, they invariably harbor a litany of challenges. They face financial, mental health, medical, substance abuse, legal, life skills problems and more.

“This is not an easy decision to make,” La Chance said about leaving an abuser. “All the sudden you are now turned homeless. And if he (the abuser) has been the primary keeper of the money, you have no money. It’s far more complicated than people understand.”

Leaving an abuser, or batterer, does not end a survivor’s problems, Nampa’s Valley Crisis Center Program Services Director Charlene Wright said.

“What I see more and more are women with no resources, no family, no money, no education,” Wright said.

The desperate condition of the survivors and the extent and cruelty of the physical and emotional abuse they experience has led to this reaction from Wright and other staff at Valley Crisis Center: “We have a saying over there … ‘You can’t make this shit up.’”

MENTAL HEALTH

Perhaps the greatest challenge for women, and men, who are victims of domestic abuse, especially when it is long term abuse, is coping with the effects of trauma. Many domestic abuse survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a recognized and genuine mental illness. And in most cases their children also suffer from the same illness. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can be a crippling mental health problem that makes it almost impossible for survivors to lead fulfilling lives without extensive counseling.

At Advocates Against Family Violence in Caldwell, staff members have just recently added a much-needed on-site mental health counselor. This year alone, she conducted 387 counseling sessions.

“Some days if they can just get their head off the pillow, that’s a huge success,” Advocates Against Family Violence Executive Director Kim Ivacek said about abuse victims. “I look at it (domestic abuse) as domestic terrorism.”

Survivors of PTSD lose brain function and struggle to cope with basic life challenges, Wright said.

“Self-esteem is non-existent in women who are victims of domestic violence,” she said.

SAFETY PLANNING

Domestic abuse survivors are under the constant threat that their abusers will find them and attack them again or use other ways to control them. For that reason, shelters must work to help their clients stay secure by teaching them how to stay safe and creating safety plans.

Client advocates at the Women’s and Children’s Alliance draw up 30 to 50 individual safety plans a month. As they go back out into the community, each client has different needs for security.

Safety plans can include the best way for a survivor to transport themselves or how to stay protected at work or school. The location of domestic violence shelters is kept confidential so abusers don’t know where their victims are.

FINANCIAL LITERACY

Abuse can take the form of what La Chance calls “economic abuse.” In this case, the abuser will have complete control of household finances and never discuss money issues with his victim. He may take the paycheck his victims earns for himself or harass her at work to the point of her losing her job.

As a result, many survivors have little or no financial skills. Since 2010, the Treasure Valley Economic Action Program has given 307 women the tools to make sound financial decisions. WCA has a financial literacy curriculum to empower women to achieve financial independence.

LEGAL ASSISTANCE

Survivors often have legal issues such as protection orders and divorce and child custody cases. Shelter case managers help with these legal problems. They may accompany them to court or refer them to legal agencies.

“We have a presence in court every day,” La Chance said about members of the WCA staff.

SERVING THOUSANDS, MORE NEED HELP

Even though Advocates Against Family Violence in Caldwell, which operates Hope’s Door shelter, served 6,785 clients last year, there are thousands more victims in Caldwell alone in need of help, Ivacek said. And although the location of Hope’s Door is private, Ivacek doesn’t want her organization’s programs to be unknown.

“What we provide does not need to be the best kept secret,” Ivacek said. “It needs to be on every billboard, every banner.”

Nonprofit uses power of story to prevent, end relationship violence

CALDWELL — For the past 10 years, local nonprofit A Frog in the Pot, housed by The College of Idaho, has focused on the prevention of all forms of relationship violence.

It has collaborated with the Institute for the Prevention of Relationship Violence at Buena Vista University to develop outreach programs that use the power of story to teach people how to recognize and respond effectively to the early warning signs of relationship violence.

The two companies will launch a national initiative called Voices of Hope in Canyon in Ada counties this fall. Voices of Hope will feature the stories of women and men who have experienced violence, but emerged from it stronger and more compassionate.

The initiative also includes a one-day continuing education workshop that teaches victim service providers, law enforcement, first line responders, academic professionals, mental health professionals, physicians and the corporate community how to integrate violence prevention initiatives into practice.

For more information, email iprv@bvu.edu

www.idahopress.com/domestic_violence/

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