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A Counselor’s Perspective…

by Claire Bennett, Safe Harbor Shelter Counselor

I am the person she comes to first…

 – When she realizes she’s pregnant for the third time by her abuser 
 – When she’s diagnosed with Hepatitis C
 – When she’s finally getting her children back from DSS custody
 – When her divorce is finalized
 – When he breaks her arm
 – When her son makes the honor roll
 – When her mother suddenly passes away
 – When she’s ready to file for an order of protection
 – When she needs to come into shelter for the sixth time

To her I am the person to whom she says, “I’ve never told anyone this before.”  I am called “family”, “mom”, “best friend”, but most importantly, I am her counselor. 

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Addressing Challenges at the Intersection of Mental Health and Violence Against Women

Alarmingly, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the Upstate of SC, more than muggings, stranger rapes and automobile accidents combined. And, both sexual abuse and domestic violence are associated with an increased risk for developing a number of psychiatric conditions or exacerbating existing mental health challenges. At the same time, living with a serious mental illness or disability may also increase a woman’s vulnerability to abuse.

Unfortunately, many victims of domestic and sexual violence and women with mental illness disabilities, are reluctant to seek help due to fear, shame, and the stigma of their experience. On October 1, 2009 Safe Harbor became one of only six organizations in the nation to be funded by the US Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women with a three-year $600,000 grant awarded to address challenges that  victims of violence with mental health disabilities confront when seeking services. 

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A bell tolled while 33 domestic violence homicide victims’ names, from 19 of South Carolina's 46 counties, were read aloud. This is the sound I remember after leaving the Silent Witness ceremony at the South Carolina State House last Tuesday. A summary was read of the 33 victims’ deaths as silhouettes representing each of the deceased were carried onto the granite steps of the State House. This is a moment I will never forget.
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The Forgotten Victims: Children Who Witness Violence at Home

By Leesa Plumblee, Shelter Counselor, Safe Harbor

“In a survey of 4,000 adults, witnessing marital violence as a child was the major risk factor predicting which adolescent girls would grow up to be domestic abuse victims.”  I obtained this statistic when I attended a training this year regarding the impact of family violence on adolescent witnesses by David Pelcovitz, PhD.  This statistic explains the great importance of providing therapy for children who witness domestic violence in their homes.  These are the children that I have the pleasure to work with each day in our Safe Harbor shelters.

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence may exhibit signs of low self-esteem, emotional or behavioral problems, feelings of guilt or responsibility, or be at high risk for drug/alcohol abuse.  These are just a few of the common characteristics of children who are exposed to family violence.  Children are victims too.  Many times, children who have been exposed to violence carry these characteristics with them into adulthood, because they have never been taught healthy skills for dealing with their feelings or for resolving conflicts.

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Safe Harbor’s Transitional Housing Program

By Bobbi Mason, MA-Transitional Housing Program Director, Safe Harbor

Safe Harbor was granted funds from the Office of Violence Against Women in early Fall 2009 to begin a Transitional Housing Program for victims of domestic violence.  In January 2010, Safe Harbor began to serve the clients in our Shelter Programs by offering them the opportunity to participate in the newly formed Transitional Housing Program that serves 15 families within the 4-county radius that we serve (Anderson, Oconee, Pickens, and Greenville).  In this program, participants can choose from living in a housing unit provided by the Upstate Homeless Coalition, or they can choose to live in an apartment of their choice.  In both phases of the program, the participants will receive rental assistance payments from Safe Harbor on a decreasing scale.  For example: Safe Harbor will pay 100% of their total amount of rent and utilities if they live in an apartment, for 6 consecutive months; then Safe Harbor will pay 75% of the total amount, and the participant will be responsible for 25% of the total amount of her rent and utilities for the next consecutive six months.  The transitional housing program will continue assisting the participant with her rent and utilities in this manner, gradually decreasing the amount of assistance each six months until the client is responsible for paying the total amount of her rent and utilities in full after a 2 year period. 

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Domestic Violence in the Hispanic Community

By Julieta Barcaglioni, Greenville Shelter Counselor, Safe Harbor

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of physical, psychological or sexual abuse, threats, intimidation, isolation or economic coercion used by one person to exert power and control over another person in the context of an intimate relationship. 

Domestic violence is a devastating reality in our communities and in our world today. Domestic violence affects 1 in every 4 women in the United States. A case is reported every minute in this country, and it is estimated that a woman is abused every 9 seconds. Also, statistics show that domestic violence is the main cause of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.  

Domestic violence is just as serious and prevalent in the Hispanic community as it is with other racial and ethnic groups.  Like other victims, Hispanic victims face important internal and external barriers to leave an abusive relationship. These barriers include: hope that the abuser will change or that the abuse will stop, embarrassment or shame, financial dependence on the abuser, fear of emotional and physical retaliation if they leave, lack of supportive relationships, hopelessness, and guilt – among many others.

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