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Haven Hills Holds Flameless Candle Vigils in Observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez | Editor   
Thursday, 11 October 2012 05:16

This is Part 1 in a series of stories on the complex issue of domestic violence, Haven Hills, the people who work there and those who seek their help.

On the wall of Haven Hills, a bumper sticker is pinned up. It reads: "There Is No Excuse for Partner Abuse."

It's a reminder to those who come for counseling or to seek refuge in an emergency shelter, away from the violence in their homes, which they are not to be blamed for the behavior of the abuser.

The mission of Haven Hills is to provide safety and support to victims of domestic violence, while working to break the cycle of abuse.

"Haven Hills is one of only two domestic violence agencies in the San Fernando Valley," said Sara J. Berdine, executive director. "Haven Hills started 35 years ago during the early days of the 'movement,' offering free counseling and support for not only women who are abused but for men and those involved in same sex relationships."

While many people who are abused may not like to consider themselves "victims," Berdine points out that once people begin to get help, they begin to recognize their strength.

"Often times they didn't know there was help for them and thought the abuse was their fault," she said. "Yes, they were a victim and with counseling they begin to realize what kind of strength it took to take this step. They know there is that inner strength and they start regaining themselves." In time, they begin to see themselves as "survivors," Berdine said.

For this month, National Domestic Violence Awareness month, Outreach Program Coordinator Emily Janes came up with the idea to place candles along with information that will hopefully make more people aware of the seriousness of the issue, which both Berdine and Janes describe as "mushrooming."

Their outreach clients have decorated glass pillar candles and vigil disks, the cardboard that encloses the candle to prevent wax from dripping, to reflect people and things in their life that have been lost to abuse. The candles are intended to both honor and encourage survivors who are overcoming the abuse and are bravely rebuilding their lives.

The vigil displays will be positioned throughout the San Fernando Valley in visible locations to include doctors' offices, libraries, and business lobbies, to generate awareness that family violence impacts the local community and highlight the availability of supportive services for victim/survivors of abuse who may feel isolated and alone.

An interactive component to the display will allow community members to decorate their own vigil disks and connect them via Facebook or Twitter to an on-line Vigil/Awareness effort. Despite increased outreach to inform the public about domestic violence, the problem persists.

"I think partly because the issue gets swallowed up with other issues; when you put on football there is breast cancer awareness, you see pink ribbons everywhere," Janes said.

"Of course we support that issue but … people don't realize despite progress in reducing domestic violence, still, an average of three women in the United States lose their lives every day as a result of these unconscionable acts. And while women between the ages of 16 and 24 are among the most vulnerable to intimate partner violence, domestic violence affects people regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, or religion.

One in four women will report being in an abusive relationship at some time in her life.

"People don't see the emotional abuse and often the physical abuse can be hidden, Bruises are hidden and can be hidden by clothing."

Often considered a private matter, as it occurs behind closed doors, physical abuse and domestic violence isn't publicized "the same way other crimes are," she said.

Physical abuse can escalate and even end in homicide, and at that point the crime becomes public. But those who work with victims point out that both physical abuse and, very often, emotional abuse can occur for years.

Anxiety or low self-esteem people don't see that toll as being the outcome, or even talk about that as abuse.

"Woman who are abused don't realize their full potential," said Janes. "The abuser often follows a pattern of abuse and then a honeymoon period. Compounding the difficulty of breaking away, the abuser may tell his partner that she is useless and no one else will want her, and creates a dependent relationship."

Often times, children are involved and there isn't a means of either economic or emotional support for the victim. "There are also mixed messages from a society who tells them to try to work it out or stay for the children's sake or go to counseling. Friends and family can also downplay the seriousness of abuse; there may also be religious factors," Janes said.

"Abuse can happen to people of all socioeconomic levels and education and occurs across the spectrum of society."

Tragically, without intervention not only will an abuser continue to abuse, but children exposed to such violence can suffer serious long-term consequences that may include difficulty in school, post-traumatic disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and criminal behavior. Abusive behavior can be handed down from one generation to the next and be a very vicious cycle.

"While there is more awareness and we have moved forward on this issue, we're far, far away from where we want to be," Berdine said.

Haven Hills, the largest domestic violence program in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, has been serving victims of domestic violence in the community for over 34 years, helping more than 600,000 people since 1978. Services include a 30-day Crisis Shelter; a 24/7 Crisis Line; an 18- month Transitional Housing and Employment Program and Outreach Counseling services for victims who are not living in their shelters.

For more information, visit their website at www.havenhills.org. If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, call the confidential, 24-hour Crisis Line at (818) 887-6589.


D. MARTINEZ/SFVS

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Last Updated on Thursday, 11 October 2012 05:58