Images of abuse blasted news stations across the nation a few short weeks ago and inspired many to step up and speak out against domestic violence. TMZ released a video taken last winter of Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens punching his then-girlfriend (now wife) and dragging her into an elevator in a hotel. Rice was indicted on aggravated assault in March as news initially broke, and the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, suspended him for two games. After the extent of the gruesome assault was seen at the beginning of September, the NFL terminated Rice.
The national spotlight has forced the football league to change its policy on how it handles domestic violence cases. More so, the incident has opened dialogue across numerous platforms to educate and inform, all the while possibly encouraging victims and allies to speak out or take action.
“Historically, domestic violence has been viewed as a ‘women’s issue,’” says Mandy Houvouras, direct services and outreach director of Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc. (DVSS) of Wilmington. “But it has been very powerful to hear men engaging in this discussion. Goodell stated in an open letter that he ‘got it wrong’ when responding to domestic violence in the league, and has since worked with experts in this field to develop and strengthen a policy designed to hold offenders accountable and provide support for victims. It’s easy to ‘blame’ the NFL, but I think it’s important to realize that domestic violence isn’t a football problem; it’s a societal problem that happens every day in our community.”
The topic remains the focus of countless DVSS staff and volunteers who continue to reach out and help victims. In fact, in 2013 alone Wilmington DVSS volunteers logged in over 2,700 hours, and over 15,000 hours came from volunteers at DVSS’s Vintage Values shops. The resale stores help fund the nonprofit’s outreach and educational programs.
“In 2013, our community outreach and education efforts reached over 14,000 members of the community,” Jennie Thomason, DVSS court advocate, says. “Our outreach initiatives include youth prevention programs, such as the ‘Hands are Not for Hitting/Words are Not for Hurting’ curriculum, which is presented to local elementary school classes.”
Last year alone, DVSS’s local shelter, Open Gate, housed 1,433 men, women and children, with an average of 200 clients served per month. This October the organization will commemorate 25 years of continuous advocacy with their annual fall rally and march, Take Back the Night. They welcome victims, family members and friends of victims, advocates, volunteers, community allies, law enforcement agents, governmental officials, and the public in general to meet at Riverfront Park next Thursday at 7 p.m. Enlightening educational speeches will be given, and live music will be played from Laura McLean and The UNCW Seabelles. The silent witnesses exhibit also will be on display as a memorial to those who lost their lives from domestic violence and abuse. The theme for 2014 revolves around “Building Bridges.”
“We thought it would be great to include the iconic image of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge since it serves as the backdrop for our event each year at the Riverfront Park,” Thomason notes. “The more we thought about the idea of a bridge, the more we realized it was also a great metaphor: Just like a bridge, we provide unwavering support to our clients and a pathway to their next destination when needed”
Though physical violence may seem most apparent in any abusive relationship, a person’s desire to control another can take on numerous faces. Ostracizing one from family and friends, dominating financial control, restricting one’s freedoms and rights, “punishing” a partner for not following “rules,” using stress or alcohol/drugs as reasoning for harsh behavior, or using children as bargaining tools are only a few scenarios of mental and emotional abuse.
“We know that domestic violence is a systematic pattern of behavior used to gain power,” Houvouras says. “It’s important to realize that abusers use a variety of tactics that condition a victim to believe that leaving is not an option.”
One of the most courageous acts a victim can go through is actually finding the strength to be independent and healthy, away from their abusers. Houvouras says the public perception to “just leave” isn’t as easy as one may believe. The fear of being hurt or lack of resources to do so plays a role. That’s where DVSS steps in to help.
“Of course as advocates we want to increase the safety of those being impacted by domestic violence and help them to identify and overcome barriers that may prevent them from leaving abusive situations,” Houvouras tells. “However, it’s important to think of ‘leaving’ as a process rather than a single event.”
“Clients often come to us during one of the most difficult and frightening times in their lives,” Thomason adds. “Yet, I am constantly amazed at the levels of strength, courage and resilience they exhibit. Watching a client regain that sense of empowerment is truly remarkable, and while it’s an honor for me to be able to offer support and encouragement along the way, the clients do all the hard work. They deserve all the credit.”
Take Back the Night will feature opening remarks from DVSS’s executive director, Mary Ann Lama, as well as a keynote speech from New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening. Corpening has served as a district court judge since 1991.
“He has always been a strong supporter of our agency’s mission and goals,” Thomason says. “He is in the unique position of being able to offer some historical perspective on the issue of domestic violence in the courts and in our community.”
“The public needs to understand that domestic violence is intentional conduct and typically occurs over time,” Judge Corpening notes, “[and] that domestic violence is found in every segment of our society.”
Take Back the Night’s 25th year in Wilmington will officially kick off October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. “What an exciting milestone,” Houvouras says. “Last year we had upward of 200 participants and are looking forward to continuing to grow this event.”
Donations, financial or otherwise, are welcome to help the local DVSS continue servicing and impacting the southeastern NC community in a positive manner. They’re always in need of toiletries, cleaning supplies, household items, furnishings, kids’ items, gift cards, non-perishable food items, and more—all of which can be found on their website.
Take Back the Night
March and rally against domestic violence
Alton Lennon Federal Building
5 N Water St.
Thursday, October 9, 7 p.m.