Increasing awareness helps to combat domestic violence, but in light of conflicting views offered by statistics and anecdotal evidence, it’s hard to tell if the issue has grown or gotten smaller.
Following Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Brenda Nichols of Arizona Department of Health Services said awareness is the first priority. Nichols manages the High Risk Perinatal and Newborn Intensive Care programs at AZDHS, but directed the domestic violence prevention program previously.
“Before we started domestic violence shelters, people just lived with it and they didn’t talk about it,” Nichols noted. “What stayed at home stayed at home, and obviously that’s not the case anymore.”
Erin Callinan is the training and technical assistance manager at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. “It creates an opportunity for the community to come together and say you don’t deserve to be abused; help is available,” she said of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The training Callinan manages, she said, covers topics from crisis intervention to abuse in later life to the legal issues that arise from abuse. ACESDV training has been delivered to 3,940 people in the last year, a number that has been increasing constantly, Callinan stated.
The awareness of existing services for victims is also increasing, as shown in a report by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. There were 2,615 phone, chat, and other contacts with the hotline in Arizona from January to June 2015, while 79,038 contacts were made nationally. The state is ranked eighth in terms of contact volume.
Callinan noted that domestic violence statistics are affected by a number of variables. Underreporting due to inaccessibility of services and fluctuating funding influence the numbers downward, she said.
Increased reporting by way of additional awareness, stricter laws regarding domestic violence, and more arrests, Callinan added, make it appear that the number of domestic violence cases has increased in recent years.
For example, 88 domestic violence-related deaths have been documented in Arizona in 2015 to date, according to a document provided by Nichols.
Furthermore, according to Maria Garay-Serratos, CEO of the Phoenix-based domestic violence shelter the Sojourner Center, 8,700 women and children were served by the center in 2014, with final numbers for 2015 expected to exceed that figure.
Ultimately, Callinan said, “it’s tough to identify” the scope of the domestic violence issue in recent years for these reasons. The numbers have made domestic violence look like a bigger issue than it once was, but many incidents never went reported before the increase in awareness and available services.
When it comes to those services, Nichols stated an ongoing local and national focus is serving survivors of domestic violence who aren’t able to leave abusive relationships for shelters in other ways. “A lot of the time, people want to leave, but they just don’t have the financial ability to do it,” she said.
Callinan said ACESDV employs a legal advocacy hotline and that it is the only one of its kind in the nation. “They don’t do crisis intervention,” she said, and added those calls are referred to the appropriate service providers. “These advocates ultimately help walk people through the legal system.”
The legal and financial issues surrounding leaving an abusive relationship make up one of the major barriers when it comes to domestic violence, Callinan said. “Leaving is a process; it’s not just a one-time event,” she said, and noted one of the most misunderstood aspects of abusive relationships is the seeming unwillingness or inability of victims to leave them.
The goal of ACESDV is on a systemic scale, Callinan said. The coalition works with policymakers locally and nationally as well as helping survivors navigate long-term legal systems, she noted.
Whether it is the more immediate work of the Sojourner Center or the legal focus of ACESDV, the amount of work being done to help domestic violence victims seems to have increased. The readiness and understanding of organizations like them, however, has proliferated, making the issue one that’s talked about and dealt with on a larger scale, instead of being kept at home.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233, the ACESDV Legal Advocacy Hotline at 800-782-6400, and the Sojourner Center crisis number is 602-244-0089.
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