There has been a dramatic expansion in services for victims of domestic and sexual violence since the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed nationally in 1987.
Today, in Multnomah County, a 15-person team in the Department of County Human Services oversees efforts to provide crisis response, prevention, education, systems coordination and cultural responsiveness.
More than 40 organizations convene regularly as the Family Violence Coordinating Council to map unmet needs, coordinate response, advise policy makers, advocate for system improvements and promote awareness of family violence.
“The range and depth of services that we have are far superior than anything we’ve had in the past,” said Rose Bak, co-director of the Youth and Family Services division of DCHS, which includes the Domestic and Sexual Violence Coordination Office. “And yet, even though we are doing so much work, Oregon has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.”
Bak spoke before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Thursday to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault and to update the board on the county’s efforts to eliminate it. She was joined by Oregon State Representative Tawna Sanchez and Pam Haan, supervising attorney at Legal Aid Services of Oregon and chair of the Multnomah County Family Violence Coordinating Council.
Following the presentation, commissioners adopted a proclamation declaring October 2017 as National Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Multnomah County. Board members also wore purple to the meeting in support of people experiencing violent behavior and those who intervene on their behalf.
Domestic violence is a pattern of willful, coercive, controlling behavior that can include physical abuse, intimidation, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and/or other abusive behavior.
Serious domestic and sexual violence affects one in three women and one in four men in their lifetimes. It can have long-term damaging effects on an individual, and on family, friends, and the community at large.
Last year, more than 60 people died in Oregon as a result of domestic violence. So far this year, 28 people -- including children -- have lost their lives in such incidents. Board members and those present for Thursday’s meeting observed a moment of silence in their memory.
“I think that the fact that we can not make a proclamation even a week in advance and count on the number of deaths related to domestic violence to remain unchanged for even that week, speaks to the continued urgency and gravity of this issue,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who sponsored the proclamation. The 28th death related to domestic violence occurred the day before the board meeting.
“I wish we didn’t live in a time where we needed a flood of #metoo on social media to convince people that sexual violence is real and pervasive and damaging,” Meieran said, referring to the hashtag thousands of women across the world have used this week to share their stories of harassment and sexual assault. “I wish we were not facing a steady stream of threats to Title IX, to the Affordable Care Act, to DACA and to a whole host of other policies and programs that made so much progress in helping to protect survivors and their communities.”
But, Meieran said, one way to overcome such dismal developments is to recognize Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In so doing, we can reflect on the progress made to end domestic and sexual violence, honor survivors and their communities and acknowledge the work left to do.
Raising awareness also is a key way to promote public understanding of the issues, make resources visible in the community and reaffirm Multnomah County’s commitment to prevent and respond to domestic and sexual violence, Meieran said.
The Multnomah County Domestic and Sexual Violence Coordination Office provides a continuum of trauma-informed and culturally-responsive services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other community members, including safe housing, flexible economic resources and other support that promotes stability.
The office also funds programs and organizations that provide ongoing connection with advocates, survivor support groups, economic empowerment programs, credit remediation assistance, housing, legal services and other supportive services.
Among the county’s partners, is the Native American Youth and Family Center, which began offering a domestic violence support program in 2000. The pairing of such a program with measures aimed at young people initially raised eyebrows, Rep. Sanchez told commissioners.
One in 15 children will witness domestic violence, exposing them to feelings of terror, isolation, guilt, helplessness and grief and putting them at greater risk for criminal behavior and substance abuse.
“The reality of it is youth, sadly enough, are the number one recipients of the struggles that happen when their families are in domestic violence situations,” said Sanchez, who also serves as NAYA’s director of family services.
County funding also supports programs that help survivors of domestic violence assert their legal rights.
“Studies have shown that access to legal services is one of the most important factors in determining whether survivors are successful in separating from their abusive partners,” Haan said. “Fear of losing custody of their children and lack of economic independence are two of the biggest barriers facing survivors and preventing them from achieving safety for themselves and their families.”
Legal Aid Services represents about 1,000 survivors of domestic violence a year in protective order proceedings, child custody cases and divorce matters. The law firm offers free representation to low income survivors of domestic and sexual violence in family and civil law cases.
“Funding provided by the county has allowed us to serve thousands of domestic violence survivors over the years and helped them even the playing field with their abusers in court,” Haan said.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said she hopes Thursday’s proclamation sends a clear message to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault that they are not alone.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a dangerous or violent situation, please seek help by reaching out to one of these organizations:
- Call to Safety, a 24-hour domestic and sexual violence crisis line, 888.235.5333 or calltosafety.org.
- El Programa Hispano - Proyecto UNICA - Linea de Crisis, 503.232.4448.
- The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services, 10305 E. Burnside, Portland, a drop-in domestic violence services Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.