Ending the fear and intimidation of domestic violence
ROCKLAND - Meg Klingelhofer, Hannah Ives and Amber Wotton, all of New Hope for Women, appeared as guests at the radio station WRFR with Chris Wolf to talk about their organization and its endeavors to help victims of domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Maine.
New Hope for Women offers support in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties to those women, men and children affected by domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. It also provides educational resources to assist communities in creating a safer and healthier future.
Klingelhofer is the community education director for New Hope, Ives is the transitional housing director and Wotton is the Time for Change Director. The following is an abridged transcript of that interview.
PBP: What is New Hope for Women all about?
Meg: New Hope for Women is the domestic violence, dating violence and stalking resource center. We work with all persons affected by dating and domestic violence, ranging form concerned friends, victims of violence and perpetrators.
PBP: When New Hope for Women began it was all about domestic violence. Now it has expanded its role to include dating and stalking.
Meg: It’s all interrelated. And the threat level of domestic violence increases when there is stalking, as well. To the point where it’s addressed as a separate issue. It’s about one person in an intimate relationship feeling he or she has the right to use power and control to get what they want. To gain and maintain that power instead of having an equal balance that’s in a healthy relationship.
PBP: How bad is domestic violence in this area that you cover?
Meg: Last year, New Hope for Women had 1,120 direct service clients that we worked with as individuals resulting in thousands of calls to our hotline. Our youth educators and prevention work reached over 10,000 students with that prevention work. And in general, one in three are affected by domestic and dating violence.
PBP: October being Domestic Violence Awareness month, what is your role?
Meg: It is lending a voice to everyone who has been silenced by domestic and dating violence. We’re in our fourth year of having a campaign called “glowing and showing” a community statement against dating and domestic violence.
More than 200 businesses from Winterport to Bath are glowing purple. They either display purple merchandise or hang purple lights in the window and each business is hanging a sign in the window that says this business is a partner in ending dating and domestic violence.
The idea is that someone has been told by their partner that no one is going to believe them; they’re blaming themselves for the abusive choices of their partner.
They are feeling that they don’t deserve to be reaching out for support because they’re feeling responsible for someone else’s choices. Maybe they go shopping downtown and see purple from end to end and get a really different message about community support.
PBP: How hard is it for someone to take those first steps in contacting New Hope for Women?
Hannah: It can be very difficult. As Meg said they will get all these messages from their partner saying no one will believe you, it’s all your fault. Well get calls on our hotline from women that want to remain anonymous. They don’t give any information other then their story. No information as to who they are. And slowly they gain the trust of the advocates after speaking to them over and over that they will be believed and that there are services that can help them to escape that relationship, or get the help that they need.
PBP: How bad does it get before they make that first call?
Hannah: It depends. We get calls from people who have been in their relationship for 50 years, and we get calls from people who say they were recently assaulted for the very first time. There has often been escalation with emotional and verbal abuse leading up to that physical assault. We get calls from people who say there is something that’s not right in my relationship, they don’t know what’s going on, my partner is acting mean and I don’t know what’s going on.
PBP: Define that. Define domestic violence and what about when you just happen to be married to or dating a jerk.
Hannah: By definition it’s a pattern of behaviors that one person does to control another person. I think that the big factor is fear and intimidation. One example that I use is yelling in a relationship. If two people are yelling at each other it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s abuse. They might feel comfortable yelling at each other, but if one person feels scared and isn't able to share their opinion, or offer their side of the story and they’re scared of their partner, that’s when it really becomes different.
PBP: It can be just verbal? When I picture abuse, I picture violence, somebody getting hit. Does verbal count?
Hannah: We identify the different categories as being physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and then there are things springing off of that like financial abuse, using substance abuse to control a partner, so there are a lot of different factors and behaviors that go into all those categories that go into domestic violence.
PBP: Someone who is in fear for their life. How do you help that person get out of that relationship?
Hannah: There are different services that we can provide. If someone is in immediate danger and they want to leave now, we have a network of safe homes that are volunteer-run, so it might just be your neighbor who has gone through training with New Hope for Women and they are offering their home as a safe place for somebody. It’s temporary, one to three nights until we can get that person into a more permanent solution such as a domestic violence shelter. And there are legal things that can happen too like protection from abuse orders.
PBP: At what point do you decide to get law enforcement involved before something bad really does happen?
Hannah: It’s up to the client. There are many clients who have never called the police and say that they never will, but a lot of people do rely on law enforcement and it’s great that we have that in place to protect the people in our community. And a lot of times people will call the police and an arrest will be made and then they can work with us to obtain a protection from abuse order, which is like a restraining order.
PBP: What keeps someone in a violent relationship? Why not just leave?
Hannah: That’s a good question. Often time the person loves her or his partner. They did not display this behavior on the first date or even in the first couple of years. This type of behavior usually escalates over time. It starts out very subtly and increases with time and sometimes they don’t even realize it’s happening until there is a violent episode. A lot of times these people have children together and they don’t want to leave for the sake of the children. Their partners are threatening to take the children away or harm them. Where will they go? It can be difficult for people trying to leave those relationships to become self sufficient. And they will blame themselves, if I hadn't done this, then he wouldn't have reacted that way, so they don’t see it as being his fault, it’s their fault.
PBP: One of the things that help in domestic violence prevention is that the neighbors don’t ignore it anymore. They don’t shut their windows and say the Smiths are at it again. They will call the police and say something is going on.
Meg: That makes all the difference. The number one thing that can make a difference in helping a victim of violence make that call and reach out for help is to get that external support. There is a support network that says, no, you’re not crazy. This isn't OK, because if a person is only hearing from an abusive partner who’s controlling the message, living with abuse can be very confusing. It’s when you stand up and say you’re not alone, it’s not your fault and there are people who want to help. It makes a big, big difference to say I saw that, or I heard that and I’m here if you ever want to talk.
PBP: What are some of the early warning signs of domestic violence?
Meg: An unhealthy relationship. Extreme jealousy and possessiveness that can seem like flattery, but it’s not, it’s control. Getting serious very quickly, this can be part of the isolation process. If I’m getting all the messages from my partner, then I’m not getting the messages from other people who help to ground me in my life. Guilt trips in order to get what that one partner wants. One person making all the decisions, patterns of exploding and apologizing that throws the victim in the relationship off. And anytime that someone is starting to lose trust in oneself.
PBP: What are some of the services offered by New Hope for Women?
Hannah: We have a number of services offered to victims and survivors. We have our 24-hour hotline, which is answered by staff during the day and by volunteers in the evening and night hours, all who have gone through training. We have safe homes for people who are fleeing immediate danger, we have legal advocates that can accompany victims to court as they’re obtaining protection orders, and we also have a staff attorney who can sometimes represent those plaintiffs in protection from abuse cases. We also have transitional housing. We have six units of housing to assist women who have fled domestic violence and they can live in that housing for up to two years. They can receive case management while they’re there so that at the end of their time they can hopefully be self sufficient and gained those skills and most importantly the self esteem that they need to be independent.
PBP: Is the shoe ever on the other foot? Do you get calls from abused men?
Meg: We serve men, women and children. In fact, Maine was the first state to allow pets on protection from abuse orders. All members of the family are served. And at times there does seem to be a gender bias in the conversation, and in fact 80 to 85 percent is male violence perpetrated against women, but that 20 percent is a huge population. When women are the perpetrators of abuse it tends to be more relational aggression, emotional abuse and the control happens that way, so it may not be as readily identified as being emotional abuse. When it escalates to physical violence, which does tend to be the way that male perpetrators show when it does escalate, that is something that we as a society identify more as abuse, but emotional abuse can leave scars every bit as deep, just not as visible.
PBP: New Hope for Women also offers counseling. Amber, you work with the batter intervention program. Tell us about that.
Amber: I’m the director of Time for Change, which is our certified batter intervention program. That’s the only service we offer that works with the abusers in their relationships. It’s important that we reach out to them because domestic violence is their issue not the victim’s issue. It’s important that they address their power of control problem. And they do that by spending 48 weeks in a room with me. We look at their belief systems and we look at their behaviors and we hold them accountable. By challenging those core beliefs that they have, that they have the right to use power and control over someone they love, they start to question that and they start to look at that and in that process you start to see the change. And it’s not just their partners, but they’re respecting people more. Their partners, their children, others, but they are starting to respect themselves more
PBP: What if I have a hunch that someone I know is on the receiving end of domestic violence? What is my course of action that I can take?
Amber: You need to allow them the time to talk about it in their own time. The victim frequently doesn’t have a voice. That voice has been shut down and you’ll only perpetuate the problem if you’re forcing them to talk about something that they’re not prepared to talk about. Be patient, be there, be present and don’t be judgmental, just be a listening ear and be ready to hear whatever they’re going to tell you when it’s time, but don’t force the issue.
Hannah: Sometimes these victims are made to feel uncomfortable because they’re being forced by their family to leave, or they’ve left and gone back several times, so it can be an embarrassing or exhausting process for people. If you just say, I believe you, what ever time frame you want, I’ll be ready to help you when you’re ready.
Meg: A good question to ask yourself is am I going to make myself feel better by asking this person or am I going to make my friend feel less anxious by asking this question. If you’re providing a safe place for them then they have a space to gather their thoughts and to start to trust their selves again. When you rush in and say ‘you have to leave,’ it might be lowering your anxiety, but it’s making that person feel more anxious as they may be faced with a number of things that may make it dangerous to leave. Leaving is the most dangerous time.
Chris Wolf hosts a biweekly radio show on WRF in Rockland at 7 a.m. for penbaypilot.com. Your views and comment are important. Send the to email@example.com