Like many locations in Wilmington post-Florence, ILM’s Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc. sustained significant roof, ceiling, window, and interior water damage, rendering the shelter non-operational. Although under renovation to get up and running ASAP, the nonprofit agency has remained resilient in continuing to aid and empower domestic violence survivors through their various emergency support services, just as they have done for over 32 years.
“I like to say we’re a ‘one-stop-shop’ sometimes because we have a lot within our agency,” says Tania Varela, court advocate for the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc. (DVSS). “We have our shelter, but we also have support groups, parenting support networks, children’s programs and counseling. My job as a court advocate is to explain the legal options available, and help clients understand the information to the best of their ability, and feel empowered to make whatever decision is best for them and their families . . . [When it comes to resources, New Hanover County is probably one of the best.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), an average of 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, which adds up to over 10 million women and men annually. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are the most common victims. Additionally, 95 percent of people who physically abuse their partners also psychologically abuse them, often resulting in higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior.
The prevalence of such statistics means DVSS has a multitude of crisis intervention and support services available to help foster a sense of resiliency within survivors and the general public. For instance, DVSS has designed multiple programs to teach school children and young adults about safety and boundaries. “Hands Are Not for Hitting, and Words Are Not for Hurting” helps elementary students identify physical signs of getting angry (Varela says the program uses a “volcano-about-to-erupt” metaphor). In doing so, they discover alternative, non-violent ways to handle emotions.
For middle schoolers, “Shifting Boundaries” approaches the topic of what a healthy relationship looks like, what boundaries are, what to do when feeling unsafe, and what school policies are in place regarding sexual assault and bullying. By acknowledging and engaging the topics early on, the program prepares younger generations to cultivate a stronger, safer community.
“We find when we combine those elements of intervention and support,” Varela observes, “so many people just flourish and grow, and then turn that around on to the next person and on to the next person.”
October happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In honor of such, DVSS and the Domestic Violence Advocacy Council are hosting their 29th annual Take Back the Night March and Rally. “This is an awareness and education event that brings the community together and talks about domestic violence in its current form,” Varela says. The 2018 theme is “Together We R.I.S.E.”—which stands for “Resilience through Intervention, Support and Empowerment.”
The event will highlight how our community has come together to condemn domestic violence, as well as provide examples of how individuals can take action toward ending the abuse.
“Resiliency is such a huge part of what we’re doing,” Varela notes, “whether the topic is domestic violence, or children and what they’re experiencing in school with bullying, or with sexual assault survivors, and the ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Me Too’ movements that have emerged. It’s about how people, after experiencing the trauma they’ve lived through, are finding ways to heal and become stronger.”
Sometimes victims of domestic violence hesitate to leave abusive relationships. The decision could be for myriad reasons: anxiety, embarrassment, fear, judgement, cultural, financial or religious reasons, etc. “We feel when a family comes to us, often times it’s not just domestic violence they’re going through,” Varela adds. “There’s so much more that’s made them vulnerable, or made it harder for them to leave or feel safe in their home, so we want to address all the issues.”
Take Back the Night kicks off with a march through downtown at 7 p.m., starting at Riverfront Park in front of the Alton Lennon Federal Building. Marchers are encouraged to wear purple—the color for domestic violence awareness. Supporters are welcome to get creative and make posters, but according to Varela, there will be signs provided for anyone who wishes to carry one. The march is a time of visibility and unity—a time to show the community that the voices of those affected by domestic violence will not be silenced.
At 7:30 p.m., supporters will gather in front of the federal building, wherein Kim Ratcliff, news anchor for WECT TV-6 and WSFX Fox 26, will serve as the mistress of ceremonies. Marrio Jeter, director of operations for Communities in Schools of Cape Fear, will present the keynote speech. Various other speakers will be in attendance, including members of the YWCA, who will all ask folks to consider, “How do you R.I.S.E.?” Also scheduled are musical performances by Laura McLean and the UNCW Seahawkappellas.
“It is a family-friendly event,” Varela reminds, “so there will be face-painting, light refreshments, popcorn, a cotton-candy machine, and balloons. Who knows? There may even be a few more community-oriented surprises we’re working on!”
Anyone who wants to help directly can check out the Shelter Re-establishment Fund at www.domesticviolence-wilm.org/how-can-you-help/shelter-reestablishment. The local shelter serves as a refuge for over 1,300 adults and children each year in Wilmington. Donating items to, or volunteering at any of the three Vintage Values shops, run by DVSS, is needed also. The resale shops donate profits to the local shelter and allow survivors to shop in-store at no cost.
“I think the biggest thing is hope,” Varela says. “Not everyone’s path through domestic violence looks the same. People are going to make different decisions, and take their time and do different things to navigate it, but there’s no one right way to handle it. There’s help, there’s resources, there are so many ways to get to the other end.”