October the month to reflect on domestic violence

PARKERSBURG – Facing capacity numbers of victims coming to the shelter and the recent uncertainty of grant funding in lieu of the federal government shutdown, officials with the Family Crisis Intervention Center said the past few weeks have been difficult.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The local nonprofit domestic violence shelter is currently full, with 18 victims and their families. The FCIC, which serves eight counties, provides a 24-hour hotline, shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, parenting education, information and referral to community resources, Kids First visitation center, and county outreach programs as well as a sexual assault victim advocate.

The shelter recently received a $10,000 donation from Verizon. The center also received renewal of a Victims of Crime Act Assistance sub-grant for $34,111 for advocates and services provided in Jackson and Ritchie counties and had a Violence Against Women Act grant renewal for advocates in Calhoun and Roane counties.

“Both of those grants help pay for advocates in four of our counties that provide direct services and have offices for the victims to utilize,” said FCIC executive director Emily Larkins.

The recent federal government shutdown created uncertainty because even though the grant funding had been approved, the center could not draw down on the funds.

“I know it was scary for a lot of people. We were not able to draw down our grants. The funds were there, but we couldn’t get them. It was alarming. We were on the phone to the governor’s office and Sen. Manchin’s office trying to find out what was happening. To think we would have to shut down the program, that is scary. We were very concerned. It’s not that funding wasn’t there, we just didn’t have access because of the government shutdown and that was a very serious problem,” Larkins said. “We were in the process of trying to make contingency plans, but hopefully the problem will be addressed. I don’t know what will happen nationwide with the programs if it’s not addressed,” she said.

While client contacts have remained about the same, a total of 3,195 for all eight counties compared to 3,178 in 2012-2013, the numbers in the shelter and lengths of stay have increased.

For 2011-2012 the number of shelter nights totaled 2,043, compared to 3,306 in 2012-2013.

“We had sheltered 203 individuals which was up from 173 in just a year, and people are staying longer. Mostly I think the longer stays are due to money concerns, the economy, the lack of adequate paying jobs, and the lack of safe, affordable housing is a big problem. The waiting lists for subsidized housing are immensely long and when we are working with people trying to start over, it takes time,” Larkins said.

“Sometimes that’s why they go back, because they are frustrated, they can’t find a job or a place to live. It’s difficult to live in a shelter, with all the different personalities, the stress, the children have to adjust, it’s hard,” she said.

Another concern Larkins said is a noticeable increase in the use of social media to harass, intimidate and further abuse victims.

“Facebook, texting, it’s out there, and once it’s out there, it doesn’t go away. They are finding new tactics to harass. We obviously still have physical, sexual, emotional abuse, but now they are also using the social media to further abuse their victims and that has become a very big problem,” Larkins said.

The shelter has received a new grant for a sexual assault advocate who will also be addressing some of those concerns.

“She is going to the hospitals to work with victims. We’ve always provided the service, but we are trying to raise awareness of sexual assault and now we have someone specifically trained in the field and she is trying to work with the social media aspects as well,” Larkins said.

Funding for that position came through the Foundation for Rape and Information Services. It is a federal grant administered through the state.

“She will be focusing on sexual assault victims and providing much-needed followup and follow through services. It’s not an overnight fix, working with the criminal justice system it takes time and there needs to someone there for these victims,” Larkins said.

Larkins said the shelter uses awareness month to try and spread the word about the services available to victims of domestic violence.

Once of the activities planned is a vigil scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Monday, at Point Park, called Flowers on the River.

“The state of West Virginia had 30 domestic violence-related deaths this year. Obviously one is too many. We will have 30 metal ribbons the inmates at the Parkersburg Correctional Center made on display to symbolize those who died. There will be inspirational speakers and music, a time to remember those who lost their lives and celebrate the ones who survived,” she said. The event is open to everyone.

To schedule a speaker, contact the hotline, get more information, volunteer, or contact the sexual assault victim advocate call the shelter at 304-428-2333. More information on the local shelter and services is available online at: www.fcichaven.org. The 24-hour hotline for the local center is: 1-800-794-2335 or 304-428-2333.