200 seek domestic violence 'safe harbor' in first year of operation
More than 200 people have sought the assistance of Dorothy Crookshank, Carroll County's domestic violence advocate since she set up shop a little more than a year ago at St. John's Hospital ---- Berryville.
Most of her clients have been women, although a few have been men ---- holding true to statistics that show nearly 97 percent of all domestic violence victims are women.
Crookshank, a former teacher who holds a law degree, was hired last year to fill a position funded by a grant from the Victim Justice and Assistance program and matching funds from St. John's.
The past year has been both rewarding and educational for Crookshank, who provides a "safe harbor" to people with broken hearts and unknown futures because of abusive relationships.
"I help them collect their strength so they can carry on," she said.
The job description sounds simple but in reality it can be emotionally demanding.
Crookshank said she often has to fight back tears when meeting a client for the first time.
"But, I'm always ready with a hug," she said. "It's gratifying because I know I'm making a difference. That's the only way I could keep doing this."
Crookshank listens to all kinds of stories from victims in turmoil. Many have endured abuse for years.
"It takes a woman seven times leaving before she actually leaves an abuser ---- or is killed," explained Crookshank.
"Actually, more women die from domestic violence than from breast cancer.
"Almost half of all female homicides are the result of domestic violence," she continued, "and every 15 seconds a woman becomes a domestic violence victim."
She noted that abusive relationships don't always include physical battering. Verbal abuse can be just as damaging.
"Verbal abuse can be extreme," she said, "but it usually takes physical violence to make a victim realize there is a problem."
According to statistics, women who attempt to leave an abusive relationship can be in grave danger.
"When a women leaves, it is the most dangerous time," said Crookshank. "If she goes away, the abuser is afraid they'll be exposed. They go nuts. That's why it's the most dangerous time. They'll threaten to kill themselves, kill her, or her children."
Crookshank said she offers victims a safe place to stay, counseling, educational opportunities, and personal assistance to help them through the crisis period.
Several area shelters are utilized, along with area agencies to aid with educational and employment opportunities.
"We've been working at getting a shelter here, but that provides only 30 or 45 days of lodging," said Crookshank. "I want more. I want transitional housing, low income housing for them until they get on their feet. It may be a year or more. That's another big piece of the puzzle. I don't want to just put Band-Aids on people. I want them to have housing and education and employment."
Crookshank works from an office inside St. John's Hospital, a place where victims can file a protection order while feeling safe and secure in a nurturing atmosphere.
"Being located in the hospital is a wonderful solution," said Crookshank. "Often victims are 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."
Crookshank is available 24 hours a day to assist victims.
People needing emergency help should call 911.
"When it's an emergency," call 911," she advised. "The dispatchers have my beeper number. So do emergency room personnel and the police departments."
Many of her clients come to her for protection orders. Some are referred by emergency room personnel or other hospital staff. Police also refer victims and some learn of Crookshank's services by word of mouth.
Crookshank says the majority of victims she has assisted have come to her since the first of the year.
"The first three months I was here, I was laying the groundwork," she explained. "I had no idea how many victims there would be. It was hard to work from statistics. One fourth to one third of all women experience violence, but I didn't know how many would come for help. Since January first, I've had about 200. And, they just keep coming."
Crookshank said her work goes beyond victim assistance. She has three main goals: provide a safe place for victims; offer follow-up services, such as financial, educational and vocational assistance; 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 an Hispanic outreach program.
"We have emergency translators and our partner in Bentonville has an interpreter on-call 24-hours a day," she said.
To meet the education and prevention portion of her goal, Crookshank said she wants to offer young women a short course in domestic violence.
"I'd like to get young women to recognize the red flags," she explained. "To this end, we are partnering with the Peace at Home project, which got a grant to go into the schools."
Crookshank is also working with hospital personnel on an early intervention program.
"We have in the works a continuing education course for doctors and nurses," said Crookshank. "I'm working with Dr. Craig Milam, who is putting this on. We are working toward universal screening, asking every woman if they are abused. This is because, so often, victims won't tell. We are finding out that more and more women are experiencing domestic violence at home."
Crookshank said support groups are also on-going in both Berryville and Eureka Springs.
"Any woman who is in an abusive relationship, thinks she's in one, or is recovering from one is welcome. There is no charge."
There is never a charge for any of Crookshank's services.
With a federal grant and local matching funds from St. John's to foot the bill, anyone who is involved in an abusive relationship is welcome to seek help.
Crookshank said her clients are grateful for the help. "There is nothing quite like what I do here," she explained. "They come with broken hearts and unknown futures. I'm an intermediate place, a safe harbor to those in transition. And, I'm a friend."