When Tina Johnson has a rough day, she really has a rough day.
It could start early in the morning with a call from a frightened young woman, desperate to get her children and herself out of the house and to a safe place. It could mean moving a mother and her teenaged children to a safe location, away from her abusive husband, with only the clothes on their backs. It could be spending long hours in court, in support of a woman who has finally left her abusive boyfriend.
“If local Domestic Violence Shelters did not exist, the consequences for victims would be dire. They could face homelessness, serious losses, including loss of their children, actions taken in desperation, continued abuse - or death,” says Johnson, who serves as the SAFE (Shelter Available For Emergencies) House Program Coordinator for Kingsport.
The facts are chilling: every 15 seconds someone is a victim of domestic violence. On average, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. One in three teens know a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, slapped, choked, or physically hurt by their partner. In Tennessee alone, there are 85,000 victims each year and the FBI recently reported that Tennessee has the highest violent crime rate in the nation.
While domestic violence is a topic many are reluctant to talk about, open dialogue is the strongest tool for awareness. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and SAFE House’s vision is to convey the message that, together, we can end the cycle of violence by preventing it BEFORE it’s too late.
For more than 30 years, SAFE House has offered lifesaving support through its confidential emergency shelter, 24-hour crisis line, transportation services, counseling, support, court advocacy, and education to domestic violence victims and their dependent children.
“When we answer the phone,” says Johnson, “we have no idea what we’re going to hear. Many times it’s a woman who has been physically abused for months by her husband and she is literally afraid for her life. Sometimes stalking is involved and the victim feels like she’s vulnerable everywhere she goes.”
And then there are the children.
“We are the only SAFE House in the area that will take a mother with more than two or three children,” says Johnson. “We recently had a mother with six children. Where else could they have gone?” Often victims arrive literally with only the clothes on their backs. “We are very fortunate to have people who donate clothing - for adults, teens and children. To leave everything behind is scary, but also sad when you leave behind a favorite stuffed animal, or toy, or books. We can’t necessarily replace those items, but we can give them some things to call their own while they’re here.”
And it’s not just mothers and children that come to SAFE House.
“We’re seeing elderly victims as well,” says Johnson. The challenges have grown over the years, too, according to Johnson. “We’re seeing more abuse between teens who are dating - or have just broken up. There are language barriers with victims that can’t speak English, and a recent case involved human trafficking.”
SAFE House services prepare victims and their children to live independent and violence free lives through individualized case planning and referral to community resources and follow-up support once a family is no longer in the shelter. In fiscal year 2012-2013, Frontier Health’s SAFE House had 136 new clients. It has served more than 12,400 victims of domestic violence since opening in 1982.
Johnson urges people to wear purple and show their support against domestic violence.
“The more members of our community who publicly support ending domestic violence, the greater reach we have to get in touch with victims and their families and hopefully encourage abusers to get the help they need,” Johnson said.
To join the campaign, contact SAFE House through 2-1-1 and sign up your school, organization, business, industry, community agency or service provider for the Go Purple Campaign. SAFE House will provide ribbons and a poster for your event. All they ask for, in return, is a photo of participants to post on social media. In addition to demonstrating support for advocates and victims, displaying purple ribbons all over a community expresses a strong message that there is no place for domestic violence in homes, neighborhoods, schools or workplaces.comments powered by Disqus