Jonnycake program providing help for domestic-violence victims

Jonnycake program providing help for domestic-violence victims

Record-Journal
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In a new program at the Jonnycake Center of Westerly, Megan Whelan, Youth Educator and Court Advocate at the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, is now available every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to advise domestic violence victims on the steps they can take to improve their lives. Courtesy of Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County

WESTERLY — Statistically, the highest rate of domestic violence in South County occurs in Westerly, but until recently the town had very few local resources to help victims.

Responding to the need, Susan Rosen, program director of the Jonnycake Center of Westerly, has set up a new service to give victims access to face-to-face help.

As of a few weeks ago, Megan Whelan, Youth Educator and Court Advocate at the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, has been onsite at Jonnycake every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to advise domestic-violence victims on the steps they can take to improve their lives.

The DVRCSC has a drop-in center in Wakefield, over 20 miles away, but victims cannot get help because they lack transportation, Rosen said.

“A lot of our clients have no cars, they walk,” she said. “Now they can come to the Jonnycake Center and talk to an advocate here — she will explain to them about the court process, about doing a restraining order. They’ll have a face-to-face contact with someone who will assist them if they have to go to court.”

In 2012, there were 129 arrests made for domestic violence in Westerly, compared to 114 in North Kingstown, 89 in South Kingstown, 71 in Narragansett, 34 in Hope Valley, 27 in Charlestown, 24 in Hopkinton, 20 in Richmond, 5 in New Shoreham, and none reported in Exeter. Statewide there were 5,567 domestic-violence arrests in Rhode Island that year.

Domestic violence is a global problem that affects individuals in every economic class, age group, gender, race, and sexual orientation. It can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death.

Statistically, women suffer abuse an average of seven times before they’ll leave a relationship.

Rosen said that Whelan also talks with victims about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and the cycle of domestic violence.

“It’s not just physical, it can be emotional, psychological, financial, it’s all kinds of domestic violence,” said Rosen, who previously worked as a domestic-violence advocate at the Naval Submarine Base New London. “It might start out with the abuser getting angry at the victim for some reason and striking out physically, after that there’s a period of remorse — the honeymoon phase — it pulls the victim into thinking they really love each other, that this is going to change and he’s not going to do it again. This could go on for weeks or months, then the cycle begins again — the abuser will strike out and blame the victim for it happening. That’s why it takes so long for the victim to leave her abuser because she believes that love will prevail and it will stop,” Whelan said she helps victims develop a safety plan and assists them in finding resources and support so that they can leave.

“We talk about the barriers to leaving, and we can arrange transportation, help with financial planning, help them prioritize what they need to do,” she said. “Right before a victim leaves is the most dangerous time so we have them write out their safety plan and visualize every step.”

Creating the safety plan includes gathering documentation like birth certificates, medical records, passport or identification, and money.

“It’s important for them not let the abuser know their plans and to avoid confrontation,” she said. “We also have counseling and support groups if the victim is not ready to leave or if it’s not safe to leave.”

Rosen emphasized that victims can be male or female and that men have a harder time asking for help.

“It’s harder for the male victims because they’re too embarrassed to come forward,” she said.

Rosen said that she expects the Jonnycake program will expand as more people find out about it.

“These programs are meant to empower the victims so that they can get out of these relationships with somebody on their side,” she said. “We’re starting off slowly and we’ll be growing as the need arises.”

For more information, call the Jonnycake Center of Westerly at 401-377-8069, ext. 101. To reach the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, call 401-782-3990. The statewide domestic violence hotline is 1-800-494-8100.

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com


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