*As a reminder -- we have included real stories of bravery, courage, and support told to us by survivors and their loved ones. These stories are personal, real, and raw. Using their first-hand experience, our guest posts can be triggering to some. Their stories include sensitive topics and language surrounding intimate partner violence and this should be considered before reading them.
*Names have been changed for privacy and protection.
Earlier this month, we heard from *Regan who shared with us her firsthand experience of surviving dating violence. This week, we hear from *Twila and *Ryan. Both share their experience bearing witness to loved ones suffering from domestic abuse. It is not easy to see someone we care about struggling, but it is important – and sometimes life-saving – to be there for them.
“The first time my best friend reached out for help, she was calling from her bathroom. She said her head hurt and she didn’t want to be at the house with her husband anymore. I was pregnant and living with my parents at the time, so they didn’t want me going to get her. I knew I had to do something, so I called her brother and he brought her to my house. She was upset with me because I called him when she told me not to, but I told her I knew she needed help and I could not come get her. That was the first time she ever left, and she ended up returning home later that day. I did not want her to go back but I knew I couldn’t force her to stay.
A few years went by and I got another call from my friend asking me to pick her up. She came to live with me and my husband for about 2 weeks, and then went back to her husband. After a few more years, she finally found the courage and strength to leave her husband for good. I knew it wasn’t an easy decision, but I was determined to keep supporting her through it.
If she decided to stay with him, I would have supported her and continued to be there for her if she needed me. As hard as it was to see her go through all of that, I wouldn’t have turned my back on my best friend. If I was talking to someone and they told me they had a friend dealing with a similar situation, I would tell them – DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM YOU FRIEND. If they ask for your help and end up returning to their spouse, don’t stop trying to support them and don’t give up on them. They need you now more than ever. Your support could easily save your friend’s life.”
When we are worried about someone we love, we react. In trying to protect our loved one experiencing abuse, these reactions sometimes include panic (“you need to get out now!”), tough love (“you made your bed, now you have to lie in it”), anger (“I’ll give your partner a piece of my mind!”) and guilt (“think of your children!”). When we react in those ways with someone experiencing abuse, we can activate feelings of shame and fear, and, intentionally or unintentionally, alienate our loved one from confiding in us about the experience they are living through.
Rather than jumping to demand a specific behavior from our loved ones, the question becomes how we can best help a loved one be as safe as possible. Let’s open the discussion with our loved one to include many options, driven by the survivor experiencing the abuse.
“I had no idea it was happening. Her husband didn’t seem like the “type” that could do something like that. I had even stayed at their home on several occasions and did not suspect anything. I later found out that she had told our mutual cousin but made him promise to never tell anyone.
My cousin lost her life as a result of domestic abuse. After her husband’s trial, I learned through court transcripts all the incidents that had been reported. The broken kitchen cabinets. The injuries she sustained from him being physically violent.
Looking back, I used to question myself and feel like if I had just paid a little more attention could I have stopped it? Or I would get upset with my cousin for keeping her secret. But I know that blaming my cousin isn’t the right thing. He didn’t hurt her. He was only doing what she had asked of him. And I know how hard it was for him after she died.”
In calendar year 2019, 29 Marylanders lost their lives to domestic violence; including 20 intimate partners, three bystanders, and six abusive partners. A number of these victims were trying to leave their domestic violence situations, whether it was filing for divorce, moving out of their abusive partner’s home, or ending the dating relationship.
We know that the question “why don’t they just leave?” is all too common and the blame on victims for staying in relationships is all too real. The truth is that many victims know that they are in dangerous relationships, but they also know that they may not make it out alive if they try to leave. Furthermore, they may be in fear for their families and friends, who may additionally be threatened with violence. (MNADV – Homicide Prevention Report)
How Can I Be Supportive to Someone I Care About?
Guest Series -- Stories of Courage, Hope, and Support.
October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (#DVAM). DVAM works to connect advocates across the nation who are working to end intimate partner violence. The goal is to increase awareness and educate others so that we can all stand together and ensure that those affected by domestic violence have a voice and are heard.
This month, we will be utilizing our blog to share real stories of bravery, courage, and support. These stories are personal, real, and raw. Using their first-hand experience, our guest posts can be triggering to some. Their stories include sensitive topics and language surrounding intimate partner violence and this should be considered before reading them.
Our first guest will share her experience of dating violence that began in high school. Most people have their first relationships while in high school or college. It’s new, exciting, thrilling, sometimes sexual, and perfectly normal. Unfortunately, this can also be one of the most dangerous times in a woman’s life. Women ages 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence. In fact, nearly 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year. In Allegany County, one in ten high school and middle school students have experienced dating violence.
Dating violence is domestic violence. It is the use of power and control over one individual by someone who is supposed to care about her or him. Dating violence is not only just physical but can also be emotional and psychological abuse and include behaviors such as stalking, isolation of friends and family, and being possessive. Since this is often their first love or serious relationship, many young people may not know the red flags or identify problematic behaviors.
“I was a junior in high school when I started dating my first boyfriend. He seemed like the perfect guy at first, but I could feel things slowly start to change. He would get mad and upset when I wanted to hang out with my friends or family. He would blame me for everything that went wrong in our relationship, compare me to other girls, and flirt with other girls in front of me. I would accuse him of cheating on me and he told me I was crazy, that I was accusing him of not loving me or that I didn’t love him anymore. He never hit me, so I thought that what he was doing and saying was okay.
In school when we would learn about abusive relationships, we were mostly taught about physical abuse. He never hit me or held me down, so I thought it was normal. We never learned that coercion can also be a form of abuse. My boyfriend at the time would coerce me into doing sexual things that I didn’t want to do. He made me feel bad about not wanting to do those things or said that because I didn’t want to do those things that I didn’t love him. He would get so angry when I said no, and he was scary when he was angry. I eventually gave in because I didn’t want him to be angry and possibly escalate to physical abuse. He would get into physical altercations with his mom, so he could easily do those things to me as well.
Even after the relationship ended he found ways to mentally abuse me. He had his friend stalk me at the beach, threatened to vandalize my car, came to my college campus and sent me a picture of my car, and had his family post horrible things about me on social media. After he threatened to vandalize my car I went to the courthouse and got a peace order. The judge granted the order for six months and the option to renew it after those six months were up. The day my peace order expired he messaged me on a fake social media account...
If you are reading this and can relate to it at all, you do not deserve that. If you’re reading this and are thinking of a friend that this relates to, don’t walk away from them. Watching a friend go through something like this is never easy, but I promise you that they need you now more than ever. They may not show it or say anything is wrong, they may have withdrawn from hanging out, but they still need you."
*Regan’s name has been changed for her protection.
Survivors dealing with intimate partner violence face a multitude of barriers when trying to end the relationship and find safety or support. The offender in the relationship often holds a great deal of power and control over the victim and thus limits freedoms and increases isolation from the outside world.
If you have never called a crisis support line, it can seem a little intimidating. Speaking with a stranger about your most intimate and personal issues can be unsettling and make a person feel very vulnerable. However, we want to use this post to give you (or someone you care about) a better understanding of what to expect and hopefully alleviate some fears about reaching out for support.
What Will Happen When I Call?
It is estimated that it may take at least seven attempts for a person to leave an abusive relationship. Reaching out to our crisis support line can be the first step to creating a plan to live a life free of violence.
For some, they may prefer to speak with an advocate via text, for others, it may not be safe to make a phone call. Accessibility is about choices - and survivors who are managing their safety need choices. That is why we have three options to reach crisis support staff.
24/7 Hotline: 301.759.9244 Text: 301.970.4242 Webchat: rc.chat/fcrc
Part Two: Addressing Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence
For part two of our LGBTQIA series, we will be discussing sexual assault and sexual violence in the LGBTQIA community. Sexual violence happens in every demographic and within every community. The rates of sexual violence within the LGBTQIA community are at similar, if not higher rates (Human Rights Campaign HRC, 2020). One study completed by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP), suggests that one in ten LGBTQIA survivors has experienced a sexual assault from their partners. When looking specifically at transgender people and bisexual women, about 50% will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime (HRC, 2020).
As with intimate partner violence, LGBTQIA victims/survivors often face stigma, barriers, marginalization, and violence motivated by homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. Sometimes a sexual assault is used as a form of hate-motivated violence (HRC, 2020). Additionally, society places stereotypes on the LGBTQIA community, such as “this community is hypersexualized”, “they are deviant”, or “their relationships are not serious and won’t last”. Stereotypes, stigma, and discrimination often keep victims/survivors silent and can create an environment of victim blaming or shame surrounding the sexual violence.
Some quick facts from the National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV):
What can you do if someone you know has been sexually assaulted?
What can you do if you have been sexually assaulted?
You are not alone. We are here for you.
Some additional resources:
LGBT National Help Center
National Hotline (1-888-843-4564) or National Youth Talkline (1-800-246-7743)
Forge (Serves Transgender and gender non-conforming survivors of domestic and sexual violence)
National Sexual Assault Hotline
A Two Part Series: Addressing IPV and Sexual Violence in the LGBTQIA Community
As LGBTQIA allies and advocates for survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, we wanted to bring to our readers a two-part blog series highlighting the LGBTQIA community. At the national level, awareness about intimate partner violence has traditionally focused on heterosexual norms and relationships. As more research becomes available, society has learned that the LGBTQIA community is affected by intimate partner violence equally, if not more, than heterosexual cis-gendered couples. Intimate partner violence within the LGBTQIA community is vastly underreported, not acknowledged, or reported as something else rather than domestic violence. Due to past trauma and stigma, LGBTQIA survivors are less likely to seek help and resources regarding intimate partner violence.
Power and Control
There are several tactics a perpetrator of abuse may use such as intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, denying/minimizing/blaming, using children, using privilege, economic abuse, and using coercion/threats (See below image for the Power and Control Wheel, provided by the National Domestic Violence Hotline). When looking at these different forms of power and control for someone of the LGBTQIA community, the use of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia is prevalent. For example, a perpetrator of abuse may isolate the victim/survivor by saying “No one else will love you because of your sexual orientation/gender identity” or “If you leave me you will never see our children again, because of your sexual orientation/gender identity”. Additionally, in smaller communities (like ours) this can also be a form of control as the perpetrator could use neighbors and other members of the community to keep track of the victim/survivor’s movement or whereabouts.
While the tactics of power and control used by perpetrators of abuse remain comparable to those of heterosexual relationships, some additional and unique forms may be used. One such form of power and control a perpetrator may use is threatening to “out” the victim/survivor’s sexual orientation/gender identity to their workplace, family, friends, or community members (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence NCADV, 2018). Another form of power and control for someone who is transgender is when the abusive partner uses inappropriate pronouns, referring to the victim/survivor as “it” rather than their preferred pronoun (NCADV, 2018). The abusive partner may ridicule the transgender partner’s body or identity or tell the transgender partner that they are not a “real” man or woman (NCADV, 2018).
The LGBTQIA community faces additional barriers regarding intimate partner violence, preventing members to seek services, which include (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2020):
What can you do if someone you care about is a victim/survivor of intimate partner violence (The NW Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse, 2013)?
Family Crisis Resource Center, Inc. officially began in 1978 under the name Women’s Refuge, Inc.. as part of the grass roots efforts addressing domestic violence. Women’s Refuge focused on providing assistance to and shelter for women who were unable to or unwilling to remain in the family residence due to intimate partner violence. The Women’s Refuge noticed very quickly a frequent history of sexual victimization among the women they served. A realization also occurred that children of these women had a need for support services, too. Women’s Refuge expanded to provide intervention and supportive counseling for sexual victimization and counseling services for children.
As the years passed and needs of the service population became more apparent, Women’s Refuge continued expanding. A home was purchased to provide a shelter, rather than sheltering women and their children in hotels. Separate office space was rented to provide counseling and advocacy services for women not residing in the shelter but still in need of assistance. Services grew to include individual counseling for child victims of incest, children who witnessed domestic violence, rape survivors, adult survivors of incest, and teen dating violence victims. Secondary victims, friends and family members of victims, also became eligible for supportive services. Because Women’s Refuge expanded services to the whole family and focused on family health, the name was officially changed to Family Crisis Resource Center, Inc. (FCRC).
Realizing a need for intervention programs to support ending violence in the community, the Abuse Intervention Program was implemented as a group program for perpetrators of intimate partner violence. Supervised Visitation was also implemented to provide a safe, secure environment for children to visit non-custodial parents in families experiencing domestic and sexual violence.
In 2000, with Allegany County and City of Cumberland Government support, FCRC built our current location ; a co-located shelter and office to address the increasing demand for services, decrease barriers to accessing these services, and provide more seamless administration. and decreased barriers to accessing services. FCRC also expanded services to include male victims, limited English proficiency survivors, and the LGBTQ population. Efforts were made to incorporate men as allies and inform the community that sexual and intimate partner crimes impact everyone, not just women. FCRC also increased its focus on prevention of intimate partner violence and crimes by expanding community education to include prevention workshops with young people and social media awareness. Around 2010, FCRC’s advocacy and support services, with the exception of the shelter, shifted to outreach. While some supportive services still occur in the building, many of the advocates are at various locations (colleges, schools, YMCA, the library, etc.) in the county bringing services and education to the community.
Increasingly, FCRC is involved in collaborative efforts with other agencies in the area to more effectively address domestic and sexual crimes. FCRC participates in the Sexual Assault Response Team, Allegany County Family Violence Council, Child Abuse Task Force, Multidisciplinary Team, Fatality Review Team, Allegany County Health Planning Coalition, Continuum of Care, and many other collaborative efforts.
Without the strong leadership of the women who began the movement in 1978 and the solid community partnerships, victims and survivors in Allegany County would not have access to the resources provided by FCRC today.
*We would like to acknowledge long time board member Betsey Hurwitz-Schwab for her work in gathering our historical content and guiding this blog post. THANK YOU!
We want to welcome you to the newest addition to our website, the Family Crisis Resource Center, Inc.’s blog.
Since our inception in 1978, we have grown from a small volunteer-led program to a dual focus domestic violence and rape crisis center, offering trauma-informed support and advocacy services for victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, rape, sexual assault, abuse, and incest. Currently, we provide services to survivors in Allegany County, MD and surrounding areas. You’ll be able to learn more about our history in our next post!
This blog is meant to be an instrument of change and awareness for survivors and their allies within our community. In it, we will talk about how to maintain safety; how to support a friend or loved one, and hopefully answer questions that you may have about our services. We also hope that you can learn more about what you can say and do in your everyday life to make our community a safer and more comfortable place for all.
So stay tuned! And keep up-to-date on the latest happenings at FCRC by following us on Facebook.