Domestic violence victims' advocate signs on at St. John's

Monday, December 1, 2003
Dorothy Crookshank, a domestic violence victims' advocate, has set up shop at St. John's Hospital ---- Berryville, funded by a federal grant and matching funds from St. John's. CCN / Anna Mathews

BERRYVILLE ---- A domestic violence victims' advocate is now on staff at St. John's Hospital----Berryville, to provide 24-hour assistance to victims in need.

The position was established using federal grant funds from the Victim Justice and Assistance program and with matching funds provided by St. John's.

Dorothy Crookshank, a former teacher who holds a law degree, was brought on board to fill the position.

"St. John's is the first hospital in the state to have an in-house advocate," said Crookshank.

"I want to advertise the fact we're here and to raise domestic violence awareness. It's a challenge to change attitudes."

Crookshank says it takes a woman seven times leaving before she actually leaves an abuser ---- or is killed. Almost half of all female homicides are the result of domestic violence, and every 15 seconds a woman becomes a domestic violence victim.

"When a woman leaves, it is the most dangerous time," she said. "We'll use neighboring shelters and will do follow-up here."

Crookshank said she is available 24-hours a day.

Persons needing emergency assistance should call 911.

"When it's an emergency, call 911," she said. "The dispatchers have my beeper number. So do the emergency rooms and the police departments."

She can also be reached by calling (870) 423-5194. That number rings through to her office and will become 24-hour activated on Monday.

Crookshank said there are many advantages to having an advocate housed in the hospital.

"It's a wonderful solution," she explained, saying domestic violence victims are often required to go to the prosecutor's office to file an order of protection or to seek help from the overloaded victim-witness coordinator.

"When women come to the hospital to see me, they have great anonymity," she explained. "No one knows why they are here, perhaps to visit a patient or to get a flu shot. It's like having a satellite prosecutor's office right here in the hospital.

"It's incredible the danger women can be in," she continued. "The hospital is more inviting. It's a wonderful facility for this."

Crookshank says she has three main goals: provide a safe place for victims; offer follow-up services, such as financial, educational and vocational; and, offer prevention and educational services to the community.

To this end, she has met with all law enforcement agencies in the county and has visited with church officials to establish a Hispanic outreach program.

"We have emergency translators and our partner in Bentonville has an interpreter on-call 24 hours a day," she said. "I speak rudimentary Spanish and will take up Spanish again."

Crookshank says she would like to go into the schools to offer a short course in domestic violence.

"I'd like to get young women to see the red flags," she explained, "and raise the general perception of Carroll County kids so they can see domestic violence from a different view point.

"My idea is to have a network of organizations, churches, schools and others," she said.

Crookshank has been working with hospital personnel on an early intervention program by establishing screening protocols. As a result, all patients are now asked "do you feel safe at home?" along with a series of other questions while alone with a hospital staffer.

"We are finding out that more and more women are experiencing domestic violence at home," she said.

On the day of this interview, Crookshank was involved with an emergency situation. A woman brought her husband into the emergency room because he was experiencing fits of violence. Crookshank was able to offer assistance to the woman ---- "to become her advocate," she explained.

Crookshank wanted it understood that she is available to help all domestic violence victims, even men, although they account for less than five-percent of the victims.

The job ahead will be a challenge for Crookshank, who sought the position after a friend told her of the opportunity.

"I'm a teacher with a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville," she explained. "I was never interested in traditional law work. I wanted to make the world a better place. A friend told me the hospital was looking for someone with a legal background to do non-profit type work. That was me."

Crookshank said she lives outside of Eureka Springs and waited tables at the Crescent Hotel for a period of time.

She had high praise for David Dennis, administrator of St. John's.

"David did a lot to take this on," she said. "That meant a lot to me. I was very impressed and he's incredibly supportive."

Dennis said he has been working with other community leaders to address the domestic violence problem in Carroll County ever since the shelter, Harmony House, closed its doors last year.

He said he submitted the grant application in an attempt to provide assistance to victims

The money received provides a year's worth of funding for an advocate, he said, adding that the ultimate goal is to find funding for a domestic violence shelter in Carroll County.

During discussions over the past year, Dennis said it was clear that St. John's was the likely candidate "to take the lead" because of St. John's affiliation with the Sisters of Mercy Health System.

"The premise of Sisters of Mercy is to provide help to the poor, to women and children, and to provide support," he explained. "Assisting victims fits right in line with what we're all about.

"We're working now to get appropriations to set up a shelter, he said. "We'll go to all communities to try to get a community partnership. The first step was to get an advocate."

That is what he has done and Crookshank is here to help.

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