Q&A with Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence

We recently had a chance to talk with Judy Yupcavage, the Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We talked about the challenges involved in getting support and resources to domestic violence victims, as well as national headlines and the impact of Marcellus Shale gas drilling on housing for victims. We also identified resources available to victims in Columbia and Montour counties. If you or someone you love are affected by domestic violence, please take advantage of the resources readily available and the many people who want to help.

1. Can you tell us a little about your organization?

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) – the nation’s first state domestic violence coalition – is a private, nonprofit organization with a statewide office in Harrisburg and a network of 60 community-based domestic violence programs across the commonwealth. We work collectively to build stronger, safer communities . We do this through prevention, intervention and social change strategies designed to shift public attitudes and break the generational cycle of violence; ensure free and confidential services to victims and their children in need; and secure sweeping laws and public policies that protect victims and hold batterers accountable.

2. There have been some startling developments in domestic violence policy recently, including Topeka, Kansas’ decision to decriminalize domestic violence. Can you talk about some of these decisions and how it impacts your job?

One of the primary reasons individuals batter is because they can. When there are no consequences, violence flourishes. All of the social and criminal justice systems are over-burdened and working with larger caseloads and fewer resources; however, the answer isn’t to ignore the risks that violent offenders pose to individuals and the community at large.

3. We recently heard that you are having difficulty finding housing for victims because of Marcellus Shale drilling employees taking up the available surplus. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

We’re hearing from domestic violence programs in gas drilling regions that safe and affordable housing (to rent and to buy) is becoming scarce with the influx of industry workers. Moreover, many of the programs’ clients report that their landlords are raising rents, sometimes so high that they are forced to relocate. Additionally, hotel and motel rooms are in short supply. As gas drilling expands, many fear the shortage of housing will be even more of problem for battered victims attempting to escape violent relationships.

4. What are the biggest challenges you face?

One of greatest challenges is stabilizing long-term funding for core services, such as hotlines, shelter and counseling, and for public education and prevention initiatives. The impact of a troubled economy has hit our programs hard. Their resources continue to diminish while operating costs continue to rise, along with requests for help from victims, many who are forced to remain in shelter longer because they have fewer housing and job options available to them.

Another major challenge is changing public perceptions that domestic violence is something less than a crime, nothing more than a private matter between sparring couples. Getting people to recognize that domestic violence is deadly and preventable is an on-going effort, as is getting people to step up and speak up if they see or hear domestic violence. We say, “there is always something you can do to help.”

Victim-blaming is a huge problem. From the outside looking in, people really don’t get a clear picture of what goes on inside homes where domestic violence is a way of life. They don’t see the fear that punctuates a family’s actions/interactions or the imposed isolation that limits their connection to the outside world. They also don’t see the lengths family members go to avoid further abuse, the many attempts they’ve made to be safe, or the hidden barriers that limit their ability to break free of the violence.

Responding to the alarming rate of domestic violence-related fatlities in PA also poses tremendous challenges. Domestic violence can be, and often is, as brutal and deadly as any stranger-on-stranger crime. Yet many people, including victims themselves, often underestimate its potential for lethality. PCADV is initiating training – beginning with domestic violence program advocates, law enforcement and health care providers – on the use of danger assessment screening tools that have the potential to enhance the safety of victims, law enforcement and the community at large, and prevent future homicides.

5. What are the warning signs that friends and families can look out for?

Certainly the physical results of battering – unexplained or suspicious bruises, broken bones. Other signs: Does person have repeated injuries and bruises that do not seem accidental? Does person fear partner’s temper or jealousy? Is person isolated from friends and family? Does person have repeated mental health and stress issues such as depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse, headaches and ulcers? Does partner exert an unusual amount of control over the person? Does person appear exhausted, frightened, or on edge? Have you noticed a change in behavior of person’s children? Do they seem easily upset or are they experiencing problems in school or with other activities?  At the end of this article, we will attach a list of things you can do to help domestic violence victims.

6. Can you talk about the victims a bit? We realize there is no “typical” victim, but we want to put a human face on victims. Can you tell us what their overwhelming emotions are?

Domestic violence victims come from all walks of life, all professions, income and education levels. They are teenagers and senior citizens. The one emotion many share in common is fear – fear for their safety and that of their children. Fear of retaliation if they leave; fear of losing custody of their children; and fear of living in povery or being homeless. They also feel pressure – pressure from the abuser, children, family, faith leaders and others to stay in the relationship. They often feel hopeless, isolated and judged.

7. Is there anything else that you would like to share? How can we help spread your message?

Anytime you report on domestic violence, please include information that free and confidential help – right in your own community – is just a phone call away, and publish the local domestic violence hotline and the national domestic violence hotline (800-799-7233).

If you or someone you care about might be impacted by domestic violence, in Columbia and Montour counties you can contact the Women’s Center.  Their phone number is 570-784-6631 and their hotline number is 1-800-544-8293. Click here to find resources in other areas.

How You Can Help Domestic Violence Victims

Friends or family members who are being abused:

  • Call police if you see/hear abuse
  • Ask if they’re safe or need someone to talk to
  • Explain that FREE and CONFIDENTIAL help is available help for victims and their children at local domestic violence programs
  • Offer a ride to a local shelter, a place to make a phone call or to baby-sit while they attend appointments

Friends or family members who are abusers:

  • Call police if you see/hear abuse
  • Tell them there are no excuses for abuse and they may lose their families, friends, homes and jobs if it doesn’t stop
  • Hold them accountable for their behavior
  • Support their efforts to locate and obtain appropriate batterer intervention treatment

Your local domestic violence program:

  • Volunteer your time
  • Make monetary donations or donate phone cards, gift certificates, bus tickets, etc.
  • Offer to board pets or livestock while victims are in shelter
  • Sponsor a family for a holiday meal, holiday gifts, etc.
Photo by ghetto_guera29