The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 20, 2007


Advocating for victims of domestic violence

As individuals, as communities, as a country, we need to develop an attitude of zero tolerance for domestic violence. Even here in quiet Carlisle, domestic violence rears its ugly head. Last year Carlisle Police reported 16 family disturbances and two arrests. For a victim of domestic abuse, finding resources, feeling heard and no longer feeling alone can make a big difference.

Since 1998, the Domestic Violence Victims' Assistance Program (DVVAP) has been providing information and resources to assist these victims. It is one of several programs offered through a non-profit organization called Domestic Violence Services of Central Middlesex, Inc., (DVS). This organization began as DVVAP in 1998. As the communities it was servicing grew, DVS was formed in 2000 to oversee the programs, training and community awareness for Acton, Bedford, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Maynard, Stow and Hanscom Air Force Base. The police departments of these towns work together with DVVAP/DVS to provide volunteer advocates with information with which to contact people in the community who are in an abusive situation.

DVVAP staff members include, left to right, Alison Gilbert Tarmy, advocate Marilyn Ellsworth, and Jacquelin Apsler. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)

Community policing at its best

"I am in awe of how incredibly respectful, valued and effective our partnership is with the eight town police departments and Hanscom," says Jacquelin Apsler, executive director of DVS. "Civilians and law enforcement working together to help domestic violence victims is community policing at its best. The chiefs and their officers are to be commended for embracing our program so fully. It is a thing of beauty."

DVVAP advocates (volunteers) are carefully trained to support clients in identifying their own pace for change and finding appropriate interventions that meet the needs of their specific situation and level of danger. "The main objective of telephone outreach is to encourage victims to tell their story, assess their risk, develop a safety plan that keeps them and their children as safe as possible and connect with appropriate community resources," Apsler explains.

"The most important message we want to convey to victims is that they are not alone," says Alison Gilbert-Tarmy, the direct services manager who has been a DVVAP/DVS staff member since 2004. "We try to have as much presence in the community as possible to bring awareness and be reactive by reaching out to individuals in controlling relationships." DVS provides a "warm-line" (888-399-6111); this is a toll-free number victims can call to receive information and access to services that can help them be safer in their relationships.

Once victims make the decision to leave a violent situation involving domestic abuse, their risk of serious physical injury and even death by the abuser escalates significantly. Court Intervention Project (CIP) advocates help orient clients, answer their questions about procedures and court personnel, decipher odd and confusing behaviors, and offer non-judgmental support and encouragement. "Risk assessment, safety planning and referrals to viable, effective and appropriate resources are crucial to the health and well-being of the victims and their families during this period of heightened risk," says Apsler.

DVS continues to help clients with a program implemented last year called Lawyer for a Day (LFAD). LFAD helps clients understand their legal rights and responsibilities if they wish to pursue separation from a violent partner. Advocates assist clients by helping them prepare for their conference with the lawyer; they encourage the client to tell his or her story completely, yet succinctly; they help prioritize key needs and goals and also ask questions germane to achieving the stated goals. The clients benefit by being organized and prepared to answer important questions during their 90-minute legal conference.

LFAD is funded by a Violence Against Women Act grant through Southwest Middlesex Legal Services. "The most difficult aspect of my job is the funding," observes Apsler. "It is a never-ending cycle of grant writing and development efforts which takes time and energy away from the work. Domestic violence is particularly difficult [to raise funds for] because it is such a hidden problem. No one believes it exists in our suburbs and few want to be associated with it." The most common misconception is that domestic violence occurs in cities in the low-income communities. In fact domestic violence does not discriminate; it affects people of all races, classes, educational levels and sexual preferences.

Not in my neighborhood

One volunteer advocate, who wishes to be anonymous, works as a Court Intervention Person (CIP). She observes that the abuse in affluent communities is more insidious because fewer people want to hear about it or believe it exists in their town. The stigma is indeed greater. Also, the abuser/batterer is more sophisticated, better educated and perhaps more powerful and well known in the community. Along with this comes a greater level of arrogance, manipulation and immunity. She says, "As I went through DVVAP training last summer, my passion for action was engaged. Working as an advocate opened my eyes to a deeper level of pain in our communities than I had imagined."

According to DVVAP, it is always difficult and often dangerous to leave an abusive relationship because of the cycle of violence, the hope/denial that the abuse will not last and the verbal/emotional/psychological abuse that may exist. Controlling partners strip victims of their self-esteem, making them believe they actually deserve the abuse. The abuser often will cut the victim off from financial support and resources such as friends and family, leaving a victim with few places to turn. "The dynamics of a controlling relationship in an affluent town are even harder," says Gilbert-Tarmy. "Houses are spread out so you may not know your neighbors, let alone hear them should they scream for help. Your family may only see the abuser as a well-to-do, well respected, charismatic Dr. Jekyll and not the Mr. Hyde he/she becomes behind closed doors."

A Carlisle advocate

Community awareness is necessary to bring about change. Cynthia Schweppe, an advocate from Carlisle, says, "I hope this article will show that Carlisle folks can be advocates and that Carlisle people caught in a domestic violence scenario can still maintain their anonymity. I'm hoping that more Carlisle folks will volunteer. I'd like them to have compassion for those who are being abused by the people they love. I'd like them to call the police if they hear someone being hurt. I'd like them to carry information brochures to give out to those they suspect are being hurt. I hope that those who are being abused will have the courage to start taking the baby steps they must take to get them and their children safe."

Advocates make a difference

Currently over 30 advocates from the eight towns involved volunteer their time, energy and compassion to helping victims to safely leave an abusive situation. Advocates complete an intensive 36-hour training program followed by a ten-hour mentored internship before beginning to work with clients. Trained advocates must commit to two three-hour shifts a month. The next advocate training program will begin July 10. For more information or to sign up call1-978-318-3421.

"Advocates are connected with all of our offices,' states Apsler. "We are careful not to focus too much on location as the safety of our advocates is as important as the safety of our clients." Anonymity is sacred within the organization. Victims and volunteers need to know their identities will not be revealed and that they are safe.

Advocates can make such a difference. One advocate believes that if this program could be modeled around the country, we would see a diminution of violence in our communities and our homes. She said, "Every time we speak out, every time someone writes about organizations like ours, there is ray of hope which may shine on lives lived in complete darkness."

Family disturbances and arrests in eight towns

The table above represents the number of 911 calls received by each town's Police Station for family disturbances. The number of actual disturbances may in fact be considerably higher since a 911 hang-up is not recorded as a family disturbance even though it may be determined to be one after the responding officer arrives at the residence. If an arrest is made, the Police Log is changed to reflect the family disturbance call. If an arrest is not made, the log is often not changed.

Last year over 130 people were assisted by DVVAP advocates in Concord and Carlisle. Copies of all family disturbance reports are given to DVVAP for possible follow-up. The DVVAP advocate on duty will then place a call to the victim to see if further assistance is wanted. Some calls are not returned and contact is never made.

In 2006, Carlisle had an estimated population of 4,800 (2005 projections). DVVAP made four phone contacts per 1,000 people. During that same year, Concord, with an estimated population of 16,800, had seven phone contacts per 1,000 people.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito