Some people believe that the folks at The Salvation Army are only busy when the Red Kettle Campaign is in full swing, and that they vacation the other 11 months out of the year.
If this were even slightly true, then Stacey Tanner, the program director for The Salvation Army's Domestic Violence, Rape and Sexual Assault program, wouldn't have her phone ringing off the hook every day and a full victim's shelter.
"In our area, for some reason, we have one of the highest per capita domestic violence rates in the state," Mrs. Tanner said. "Our shelter is typically always full and we are the only licensed shelter in all of Chautauqua County. It's not easy work but it is necessary, and there are times we can help someone change their life entirely- and that makes it all worth it."
Diane Butcher, manager of the Agnes Home, and Stacey Tanner, director of The Salvation Army’s Domestic Violence, Rape & Sexual Assault program, review a case file at the Anew Center in Jamestown.
P-J photo by Robert Rizzuto
A COMMON SITUATION
Many of the victims of domestic violence find themselves in a unique position of need, as many are dependent on the person who is abusing them. Statistically speaking, most victims are women, although Mrs. Tanner explained that the program does help men who are victims as well.
In many cases, the victim is without a vehicle, money and a place to go, and they primarily enter the Salvation Army's program, which is funded by the United Way, by calling the crisis line. Through speaking with a trained staff member or volunteer, victims are offered counseling, crisis intervention, legal, medical, and human services information as well as referrals to other agencies which may assist them.
Since studies have shown that it takes almost ten instances of abuse before someone will consider leaving their abuser, many people who call the hotline never go any further than receiving occasional support and advice.
"Sometimes people just call us to get through another day and they will never leave their abuser," said Diane Butcher, the shelter manager at the Agnes Home. "But when someone makes that courageous first step to leave that person, it is just the beginning of an often long and hard road but we make sure they don't walk it alone."
ONE WOMAN'S JOURNEY TO PEACE
Mrs. Butcher recalled the story of "Holly," a woman who was in a long-term relationship that became abusive.
In Holly's relationship, verbal abuse escalated to physical abuse and with a child from a previous marriage and a baby with the abuser, she knew the situation had to change. When she found out her boyfriend had been cheating on her, she confronted him and that ended with her getting hit.
She called the crisis hotline, and things began to change for her and her children.
"At that time, she didn't want to have him arrested because she thought if he lost his job, things would be worse," Mrs. Butcher said. "But a few weeks later, there was another physical assault, and that time she called the police and he was arrested for it."
Since Holly was lucky enough to have a decent job, she was able to remain at the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend. He moved in with his girl on the side and she moved on.
She began working with a caseworker at The Salvation Army and was able to obtain an order of protection through Family Court which eventually awarded her custody of the baby. The ex-boyfriend was ordered to take parenting classes and was allowed supervised visits, but the abuse didn't end when Holly broke free.
"During the court case, there were incidents of harassment and times when she felt threatened and feared for her safety," Mrs. Butcher said. "This was a very difficult time for her as she was fearful of her ex and at the same time still had feelings for him. She used local law enforcement, the courts, counseling, The Salvation Army and the Department of Social Services to help her transition from the relationship."
Holly has successfully moved on, although the abusive ex will always be a part of her life as he has parental rights. Mrs. Butcher said that Holly's situation illustrates in general the fact that although leaving is the first step, it is far from the last.
PROBLEMS WITHIN THE SYSTEM
When asked if a magic wand could be waved over the system to fix any one thing, both administrators in The Salvation Army's program had a couple of ideas.
Mrs. Butcher said that although they are extremely appreciative of the support their agency receives from those in the criminal justice system, there are long-standing institutional issues that lead to an extra burden being placed on the victims of abuse and domestic violence.
"We've had cases where a parent has sexually assaulted one child in the home and they will still get visitation rights for the other children because there wasn't evidence that they were abused as well," she said. "And other times, an abused woman will get up the courage to leave and takes the children with her, and the judge may look unfavorably on her for keeping the children away from their father. The system puts a lot of strain on the victims and it would be nice if that wasn't the case."
Mrs. Tanner said that although 75 percent of the cases they deal with never cross into the realm of criminal justice and charges being filed, sometimes the ones that do don't make an impact on the offender.
"We see some cases where a husband will hit his wife, give her a black eye, and he ends up with a harassment charge," she said. "It is a violation charge, like a parking ticket, when it should be something much more serious like an assault. That all depends on the arresting officer and their perception of what happened, but if you punched someone in the face at a bar, it would more than likely be an assault charge."
Mrs. Butcher said that they see the same abusers time and time again but the victims change. She explained that if there aren't still penalties for abuse, the abuser has no incentive to change, and in additional to the cycles of abuse that carry on from generation to generation, that may also contribute to the high number of repeat offenders they deal with.
In the City of Jamestown, the Project Crossroads program aims to educate community members about domestic violence, investigate all allegations and to assist the victims. It is an investigative branch of the Jamestown Police Department that works with The Salvation Army's program, and frequently refers victims to the shelter.
Although the JPD program is limited in scope to the city of Jamestown, The Salvation Army's Domestic Violence, Rape and Sexual Assault program is county-wide. The downside is that there is only on shelter, The Agnes Home, and it only has 13 beds and is located in Jamestown.
Mrs. Butcher said that they would like to have a north county shelter but it is an expensive endeavor and no funding is available for the ambitious project. This results in victims in Dunkirk and every other area of the county outside of the city with an additional challenge when trying to break free from an abuser.
Although caseworkers frequently travel throughout the county for home visits to counsel and help develop safety plans, victims without transportation who can't just drop off the radar due to a job or other circumstance sometimes find themselves in a bind.
"We are the only agency that provides comprehensive, county-wide help for victims and no matter how full the shelter is, we never turn anyone away," Mrs. Tanner said. "We would love to have a second shelter but the money just isn't there. But when we can't accommodate someone at our shelter, we make sure they get the help they need in a neighboring county. Whether it's a man, woman or child, if they need our help, we are always going to be there for them."
In 2008, the non-residential domestic violence/rape-crisis program helped 311 people and the residential program helped 193 victims and children.
The Salvation Army's Crisis hotline can be reached at 661-3897 or 1-800-252-8748 24 hours a day, seven days a week.