April places emphasis on prevention

PARKERSBURG – Children are sometimes the forgotten victims of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence affects everyone in the household. The children we work with include children who intervene to try and protect the abused parent or witness or hear the abuse in the home,” said Emily Larkins, executive director of the Family Crisis Intervention Center.

The children in a domestic violence home may themselves be targeted for violence as well.

April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“The children are affected and they need help too,” Larkins said.

The local center serves eight counties, providing a variety of services including counseling. All the services provided by the center are free.

Larkins said the numbers of domestic violence cases continues to increase, it appears the violence is escalating and the perpetrators have found new means of stalking and harassment by using social media and new technology.

“They are using Facebook, twitter as a means of stalking, verbal abuse, there’s the sexting with the teens, it’s a whole new world. The children in these domestic violence situations may be suffering physical, emotional abuse. A lot of the children turn to acting out. They may start having problems at school, experience night terrors, have changes in their behavior, eating habits,” Larkins said.

The shelter has seen children from one week to 18 years of age.

Larkins said abuse is often targeted at a fetus in the case of a pregnant domestic violence victim.

“There is a high-risk, and they will often go after the victim by hitting or kicking the woman in the stomach, so even the unborn are at risk of being abused,” Larkins said. “In some cases the victim may be holding an infant while the abuse is going on.”

According to an American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force report, “a child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. Male children who witness the abuse of mothers by fathers are more likely to become men who batter in adulthood than those male children from homes free of violence.”

Larkins said the number of domestic violence, abuse cases continues to grow and the cases many times seem to be more severe.

The shelter provides a safe haven, 24-hour hotline, counseling, legal advocacy, parenting information, information and referral to community resources, a family visitation center, transitional housing, and county outreach programs.

In 2010-2011 the center had 2,939 client contacts; in 2011-2012 that number was 3,195 and in 2012-2013 it was 3,178, which included more than 1,400 children. The number of resident contacts went from 148 in 2009-2010 to 203 in 2012-2013.

“Most of the victims who come into the shelter have children with them, an average of two,” Larkins said.

In 2011-2012 the center provided shelter to 960 children, and 1,083 adults. In 2012-2013 there were 1,770 children and 1,533 adults sheltered.

The local center serves Wood, Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler and Wirt counties.

There are 14 licensed domestic violence shelters in the state.

A local observance for the month is planned with an annual flag-raising ceremony on the last Friday of the month in recognition of the victims. The ceremony is held at the flag pole in front of the Shaver Judicial Annex around noon. There will be displays and information about services available inside the municipal building after the ceremony.

“Public awareness is key and the shelter has speakers available to talk to area groups and organizations about domestic violence,” Larkins said.

To donate, schedule a speaker or for more information on services, call the victim hotline: 1-800-794-2335 or 1-304-428-2333.