Facing the issue: Safety network offers resources for domestic violence survivors

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sandy Wright wants Carroll County to wrap its arms around the survivors of domestic violence, and she hopes to accomplish this goal through the Carroll County Safety Network.

Wright, who works as the advocate for various domestic violence shelters in the country, said the safety network will help those suffering in violent relationships find a way out. Operating on a grant from the Carroll County Community Foundation and volunteer time, the network is a multifaceted way for abused women and men to seek help.

The network, Wright said, will reach out to victims of domestic violence by offering contact information. This information includes a toll-free phone number, which will be answered by a representative at an established shelter, and a cell phone for volunteers in case of emergency. Once a person reports abuse, the network has drivers available to take families to local shelters. Wright added that the network is connected to shelters in other states, should the survivors want to get as far away from their abuser as possible.

She wrote in an email that the network currently has 25 potential volunteers. These volunteers, she noted, must undergo background checks and training, as well as have a valid license and insurance policy.

"We're doing volunteer training with the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That's mandatory training if you're going to be part of the network," she said.

Training will focus on three topics: confidentiality, basic advocacy and safety planning. Wright emphasized the importance of safety planning, saying that a woman is most vulnerable when leaving a violent relationship.

Wright is working on setting up safe spots in Carroll County; composed of local businesses, these spots will be open to survivors of domestic violence hoping to leave the home. Staff at these businesses will be given a checklist to properly help survivors.

An informational outreach office, call The Purple Flower, has been set up in Berryville. Linda Maiella, co-founder of the office, said it is meant to connect women to the safety network and to raise awareness about domestic violence in the community.

"I want us to be visible and to let people know that it's real, it's happening in Carroll County and now there's a place where someone can go to get information or create a personal safety plan," Maiella said. She added that the city of Berryville is paying rent on the office, located at 7 N. Springfield St.

Though these resources will help survivors of domestic abuse, Wright said the network's biggest goal is raising awareness about domestic violence in Carroll County and the resources available to those suffering in these situations.

"We'll be doing a full awareness campaign that will kick off in January on domestic violence resources throughout the county and in the area," she said.

This awareness campaign will involve local businesses and churches in an effort to create "no tolerance for domestic violence in Carroll County."

Arkansas State Rep. Bob Ballinger, too, has been working to raise awareness for survivors of domestic violence.

Ballinger has been working to establish the Carroll County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, hoping to start a conversation about domestic violence in Carroll County. He wrote in an email that he is searching for one member from the police departments, the sheriff's office, the prosecutor's office, the school districts and shelters. He hopes to have nine members on the board initially, including representatives from local hospitals, the business community, public advocates and churches.

He noted that people chosen to be on the board would collectively represent each entity; the representative from the police departments, he said, will serve for every department in the county. Likewise, the person chosen from the school districts will represent each school district in the county, with the shelter representative standing in for all the shelters in Carroll County.

He was accepting nominations for representatives all last week, asking for those with passion for the issue and professional expertise to volunteer. In meetings in Little Rock all this week, Ballinger wrote in an email Wednesday that he "will try to set aside time to work on organizing the initial members ASAP."

Wright is working with Ballinger to get a representative from the network on the coalition, having nominated Brave Woman founder Judi Selle for the position.

"I think what Bob is doing in terms of getting a common conversation among law enforcement and advocates is a good start for creating change, and the safety network is doing the action at the moment in terms of having trained advocates," she said.

She added that she hopes the coalition and the safety network can work together to change perceptions of domestic violence.

"The main thing is we want to shift some attitudes about women in general but especially women going through domestic violence. Our law enforcement needs to shift the way it looks at domestic violence and women involved in domestic violence," she said.

Carroll County Sheriff-Elect Randy Mayfield, Wright said, will help shift these perceptions. She explained that he is bringing in a law enforcement official from Tulsa, Okla., which she said has a police force well-trained in cases of domestic violence.

She recalled the murder of Laura Aceves, who was killed last year by Victor Acuna-Sanchez. Acuna-Sanchez took a plea bargain in October and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

"For a long time this was hidden," Wright said. "Statistics say that one in three women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, so if you look around a room full of women there are probably people in there who you won't know are going through hell."

Wright acknowledged the challenge the safety network faces in changing the perceptions that plagued Aceves and others in violent relationships but said she is optimistic about the resources becoming available for survivors of domestic violence in Carroll County.

"The Carroll County Safety Network is really the grassroots participation in providing a system. If the coalition board works on changing laws, perceptions and the way the system addresses a woman's need long before she gets into a situation Laura found herself in, it will be a good marriage," she said. "We just want a call to action from the community."

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