In her years of working with domestic abuse victims, Stacey Carrigan has found a recurring theme.
People who are abused by spouses and partners feel like they are alone in the world, she said.
"They think this doesn't happen to anyone else," she said. "They think there is no place to turn."
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the staff at the Domestic Abuse Program of District IV Human Resources Development Council hopes to get one message across to victims and the community at large: Victims are not alone and there is a place to turn.
The program's staff kicked off a month of activities Sunday night with a candlelight vigil.
As they spoke, T-shrits were draped over a clothesline at the HRDC office. Each of the shirts had a saying inscribed by someone who has dealt with domestic abuse. The clothesline will be displayed at Holiday Village Mall next week as an educational tool.
Staff at the Domestic Abuse Program would like victims to come forward before their abuse situation becomes a crisis. The Domestic Violence Crisis Line is staffed by volunteers 24 hours a day.
Most of the program's clients are women, but an increasing number of men are victims of violence, the staff said. Most are victims of spouses or partners, but there are more cases of parents and stepparents being abused by children, said Brittany Christofferson, who heads the program.
People tend to wait as long as possible before seeking help. If the abuser uses verbal abuse, the victims wait until it gets physical, Christofferson said. Victims tend to think that things will get better, even when history indicates that they will not, the staffers said.
When victims can't take the abuse any longer, they can call the crisis line.
“The first question we ask is ‘are you safe?’” Carrigan said.
Sometimes victims can seek refuge with friends or relatives, but the program has a home, the Haven, that temporarily houses abuse victims.
Women and children are often housed in the secure home. Although they try to keep the location secret, many people know where it is, they said.
But there has never been a problem with abusers coming to the home.
The home is securely locked. Twice, panic buttons were inadvertently set off, and police responded in force within two minutes, staffers said.
"Police have been very helpful to us," Christofferson said.
When police officers are called to the scene of domestic abuse, they can make a determination if an assault has taken place. If it has, the offender will be arrested and taken to jail. Offenders are not released until they see a judge, and there is an automatic 72-hour order of protection, which bars the offender from having contact with the victim.
By that time, the staff can bring the victims to the Haven and begin the process of helping them plan their futures, tapping into many community resources, including several offered by HRDC.
Christofferson said there are an increasing number of calls from gays and lesbians who have been abused by partners.
They are not entitled to the same protections as other couples, she said, though the program does everything it can to help them.
Abuse has many causes, they said.
Men tend to keep their emotions bottled up, they said.
Often people see them on the street, and they are happy-go-lucky, but they may be seething inside. When they go home, they take out their anger on their families, they said.
“For both abusers and victims, it is often a cycle,” said Jamie Quinnell. “They grew up in a cycle of violence.”
“We're beginning to see the second generation,” he said.