'There to Give Comfort and Support': Two Organizations Just a Phone Call Away
Peace Place and the Piedmont Rape Crisis Center staff 24-hour crisis lines for victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence can happen in any home, in any city. It happens right here in Barrow County. Sometimes victims remain silent and are subjected to ongoing abuse. Other times, the abuse can't be kept a secret because someone ends up getting seriously hurt. Patch contributor Leigh Hodges gives us two resources for victims of domestic violence and physical abuse. There are places to turn and people who are ready to help — just a phone call away.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call 770-586-0927, 770-586-5423 or for immediate emergency assistance, dial 9-1-1.
According to statistics compiled by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 22 percent of women reported being physically assaulted by a spouse or partner.
Nearly 25 percent report being beaten or raped by an intimate partner during adulthood.
In a 2007 study, also released by NNEDV, 60,000 victims on average were served by domestic violence or rape crisis centers during one single day across the United States.
With statistics like these, what are we in our local community doing to help the victims trapped in abusive relationships or who have been the victims of an assault?
Victims of domestic or sexual violence often find themselves in a state of desperation and confusion. When they people closest to them become the enemy, it's hard to know where to turn for help.
Women in Barrow county have a couple of places to go for support and shelter, staffed by volunteers who are willing to listen to their stories and get them through their crises.
Here in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit, which includes Barrow County, victims of domestic and sexual abuse have access to local resources to assist them in times of crisis. With just a quick dial of the phone, victims can receive invaluable assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Peace Place is a haven for battered women and their children. It offers a 15-bed emergency shelter for temporary housing, as well as daily support group meetings, counseling, legal advocacy and crisis intervention, and community outreach. Volunteers also help staff a 24-hour hotline to offer immediate intervention.
The Piedmont Rape Crisis Center has a parallel mission for victims of sexual violence, offering sexual assault nurse examiner services, counseling, training for other professionals and crisis intervention. They also offer a volunteer-run crisis intervention line staffed 24 hours a day.
At Peace Place, whose location is secret, volunteers are required to undergo 40 hours of training prior to taking calls on the crisis line. Volunteer Coordinator Sai Herr-Lee said most volunteers are over 30, and some are survivors of domestic or family violence themselves, though they must be out of abusive relationship for one year prior to training.
Volunteers are educated on the cycle of domestic and family violence, as well as other topics related to the realities of these situation. They are instructed to give victims comfort and support, not to provide legal advice or tell people what to do. While leaving an abuser can sound like the best option, it can also be dangerous.
Her-Lee currently has 12 active volunteers who help staff field calls at Peace Place, but she has had plenty of practice answering calls herself.
"When I take a crisis line call, I do not give legal advice or tell people what to do, and tell volunteers that same thing," she said. "We are there to give comfort and support."
Citing the possibility of abusers committing homicide in extreme cases after the victim tries to leave the relationship, Herr-Lee said.
"No one knows the abuser like the victim does, so they know what reaction they will have if they try to leave," Herr-Lee said. "We haven't walked in that person's shoes. No one knows better than they do what is best at that time."
Candice Gary, who has eight years experience in social services and has been taking calls for Peace Place for about a year, said the work is challenging.
"It can get hectic and be frightening at times," Gary said. "You have to assess the level of danger quickly and you don't want to get it wrong. Where are they calling from? And do we need to get law enforcement involved?"
"Most of the calls come from victims with very little support from family or friends, sometimes because those people have tried many times to get the victim to leave the abuser," Gary said. "It's hard to see them separate and return, I know. But they just don't understand."
Herr-Lee said volunteers must be tough.
"The call taker's greatest fear is that they will say the wrong thing, or their words will be taken the wrong way," she said.
Gray adds, "You have to take a step back and not become too personally involved for you own self protection. It's not easy for everyone to do."
Susan Cash, interim director of the rape crisis center, said training is crucial for her agency's volunteers.
"We provide 37 hours of training over eight weeks, even though the state only requires 24," she said.
Cash is currently the only full-time staff member at the center, which relies on its five active volunteers to assist.
"It can get pretty crazy around here," Cash, who answers many calls herself said with a sigh. "But I will help anyone I can."
Cash said volunteers must be ready for anything, because they never know who will be on the other end of the phone.
"When folks are hysterical, it can be tough to handle," she said. "It's hard to think. You just gotta help them figure out their options. Should I report to law enforcement or have a ... nurse do an exam?"
Cash explained that clients are different with every call.
"I had one victim that was 83 and another who had been victimized by her husband for years before she called," she said. "Some have just been assaulted and some are sharing their story for the very first time."
Volunteers who field calls from victims must be committed and personally healthy in their own lives.
"There is nothing wrong with being personally affected by the victims you talk with, but you have to have clear boundaries and not get too involved personally," Cash said. "Some volunteers work a few shifts and decide they can't stomach it — it's too hard for them emotionally. It's not easy work."
Thanks to their staff and volunteers, Peace Place and the Piedmont Rape Crisis Center offer services that cannot be replaced. With their volunteers help, victims have a place to turn in times of crisis. Herr-Lee said their greatest volunteer need currently is actually men.
"We need strong backs to move furniture for victims who are moving," she said.
Cash just sighs when asked what the greatest need at PRCC is.
"More of everything — volunteers, staff, donations. We need it all."