By Jerika L.H.
Domestic violence – it can happen to anyone. The scourge of society, domestic abuse almost always cowardly takes place behind closed doors. It is one of the most widespread interpersonal secrets that permeates every class status, race, ethnicity, creed and culture. Given the statistics, one out of every three women you know has fallen victim to physical or sexual abuse by a partner at least once in their lifetime.
If that seems high to you, keep in mind that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, with more incidents than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Every day in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
While many assume abuse takes place when no one is watching, the majority of cases involve witnesses – little eyes and ears that absorb the trauma of violence. Children are often innocent bystanders, caught in the crossfire of the psychological, physical and spiritual brutality of emotional terrorism.
While the abuse might stop once a family enters a shelter or when the abuser is extracted from the home, it is a wound that children carry with them forever. In fact, men who witnessed their parents’ domestic violence as children were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.
Women who grew up in homes where domestic violence was present are more likely to grow up to tolerate abuse from their partners as adults, and often become revictimized as adults.
That is where Empower Yolo is stepping in to stop the cycle. It is important to note that, while the majority of domestic violence victims are women, men are also frequently violated, but are much less likely to come forward due to social stigmas about masculinity and control.
In January the Yolo Center for Families merged with Empower Yolo to expand the depth of their services and reach out to more families in need and those located in less-recognized, unincorporated areas of Yolo County. Empower Yolo stands as Yolo County’s main victim service and violence prevention leader.
The nonprofit was established in 1977 and arose out of the need to help assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking and child abuse in Yolo County. The nonprofit lists promoting a safe, healthy and resilient community as its mission. “The merger allows us to expand our services in Davis, the Center for Families has a resource center in the house on the corner of 5th and D, giving the community another point of access for services.”
Empower Yolo is a support powerhouse that offers a number of services for victims and their families. Along with their 24-hour crisis line, EY has an emergency shelter that housed 147 women and 188 children in 2015 alone. Their legal advocacy program holds a daily restraining order and weekly family law clinic, as well as provides help for court preparation and court accompaniment. Since many families fleeing violence often have to leave everything behind to seek shelter, the Empower Yolo Community Closet was established to provide clothing and personal hygiene items to clients and their children.
Another big barrier in helping families overcome abuse is the daunting bureaucratic processes that comes with seeking medical and legal help. To aid in these procedures, CARE agents (Concerned Advocates Responding to Emergencies) are put in place to provide hospital accompaniment during evidentiary exams, and also to help with medical, legal and social service advocacy for sexual assault victims. Having someone there to help guide families and hold victims’ hands goes a long way in making the process as smooth and comfortable as possible.
Given that one of Empower Yolo’s main aims is prevention, trainings are offered at schools, businesses, and throughout the community through their Community Outreach and Education Program. Specifically, and their My Strength club emphasizes advocacy in young males by inviting them to be part of the solution.
Club members usher in young men aged 14-18 years and explore issues of violence within the community, as well as teach about men’s roles in stopping rape. For young women, the Be Strong program has been put in place as an empowerment tool that also operates as an asset-based health promotion and violence prevention curriculum..
Many Yolo County residents might not realize that they can receive free counseling services through Empower Yolo. Individual crisis counseling, short-term therapy and processing groups are available, as well as counseling services for children who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse, neglect, witness to domestic violence, school violence, or community violence such as bullying, and abduction. The only out of pocket service that is subject to a sliding scale fee is the Alternatives to Violence course, a 52-week batterer intervention program.
Now that Empower Yolo and Center for Families have merged, they have expanded their services to include rapid rehousing assistance, financial coaching, financial resource and literacy education, immigration services, free tax filing, and support groups. In addition, EY has implemented a new After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens program at Woodland Senior High and Pioneer High School [ASSET].
As Empower Yolo Executive Director Lynnette Irlmeier notes, “[The ASSET program] partners with Woodland schools to provide academic support and safe, constructive alternatives for high school students. More than just an after school program, Woodland ASSET’s team creates genuine connections with high school youth and families and provides unique opportunities for the development of life and leadership skills. We also provide family literacy services to the parents of our high school students. Our program operates after school, weekends, summer, intersession, and vacation periods.”
As it stands, prevention and education are the most effective methods in deterring violence. When children grow up in safe and loving homes, they are less likely to resort to violence out of anger. Yet, when domestic abuse is part of their daily life, they come to naturalize violence as simply the way things are. The cycle of violence within the home can lead to immeasurable suffering for all involved, but have been specifically linked to an increased occurrence of self-harm, depression, anxiety, and damaged emotional health for children who have grown up in abusive environments.
For more information about Empower Yolo, please visit http://empoweryolo.org/counseling-services/