With domestic violence 'escalating,' Wareham organizations offer support to victims

Oct 9, 2017

Domestic violence can impact anyone, cutting across age, economic and racial backgrounds. Nationally, approximately one in two women and more than one in four men have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes.

As organizations and individuals prepare to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, Wareham groups continue steadily in their work of providing physical, mental, emotional and legal support to victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is described by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence as a pattern of abusive behaviors- physical, sexual and psychological, used by one intimate partner against another to maintain power and control in the relationship.

“Batterers use a range of tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, often injure, and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner,” the center says.

Kathleen, who has worked with South Shore Resource and Advocacy Center in Plymouth since 1991 and can’t have her last name printed for safety reasons, deals with the legal advocacy side of domestic violence, helping victims get restraining orders and harassment orders.

The center deals with more than 400 restraining and harassment orders a year and has already done 327 this year. Of these, 90 percent are restraining orders.

“The violence is escalating,” said Kathleen. “We’ve had at least four families that were shot at in Wareham this year, that’s an uncommonly high number.”

In 2016 in Plymouth County, there were two domestic violence homicides of women, and law enforcement officials confront the issue almost daily.

A longtime Tobey Hospital security guard was recently charged with attempted murder after he shot at his wife and her 5-year-old child from his car after a domestic dispute on Sept. 18 in Marion. The man, Joseph Singleton, is currently being held without bail.

"Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be an abuser"

As the coordinator of outreach and education for the center, Kathleen goes to middle schools and high schools to present on teen dating violence and run groups on self esteem, healthy relationships and conflict resolution skills.

Eleven percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle school students report that they have been physically hurt by a date, according to the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

“Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be an abuser,” Kathleen said. “We think, ‘Oh, those people who get restraining orders or those people who get harassment orders.’ But these are people just like you and I...I’ve helped psychiatrists, doctors, teachers, lawyers.”

The challenge of helping victims

There aren’t enough places for victims escaping domestic violence to go, Kathleen said.

“There are not enough shelters or they’re all full when we call,” Kathleen said. “Everything’s fine if they have the abuser leave the home, but then who’s going to pay the mortgage if the abuser was the primary person for income?”

Kathleen said there are many reasons leaving an abusive situation can be so difficult.

“I just had an 18-year-old that was beaten up by her dad because she got a tattoo, but he beat up her mom all the time and she used to intervene,” Kathleen said. “Now she’s going to have to couch hop between all her friends and she had to drop out of school.”

Even for a professional who has spent years working with domestic violence victims, it can be emotionally draining, said Odonata Psychotherapy Executive Director Nancy Wiley.

“I left the field for a couple years because one of my clients killed herself,” Wiley said. “She just couldn’t hold on one more day.”

Therapy for victims and perpetrators

Odonata Psychotherapy serves Barnstable and Plymouth counties, with an office in Wareham at 330 Main Street. The practice, open for six years, specializes in issues related to trauma and brings in people from across the country. Every detail of the office is set up to help clients feel safe, with chairs that wrap around clients, no overhead or fluorescent lighting, windows and therapy dogs.

Out of 280 new clients this year, 212 suffer from PTSD due to domestic violence. Odonata also works with perpetrators of domestic violence.

“We do the same type of work with perpetrators as with victims, because most perpetrators were victims first,” Wiley said. Odonata will begin offering weekly group meetings for perpetrators in November.

“I’m pretty excited about that, especially because a perpetrator asked for it,” Wiley said.

Odonata, which means “dragonfly” in Greek, has one psychiatrist, a nurse practitioner and 13 counselors. Clients can see more than one counselor at a time to get the benefits of every therapist’s specialty. The center is about to open a partial hospitalization program at its Buzzards Bay location, where clients can stay from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for several weeks, if needed.

“It’s really hard to talk to someone about the terror they’ve been through...and then send them back out into the world after an hour,” Wiley said. “This is a safe space. They can cry or yell or scream if they need to.”

Odonata Psychotherapy’s new initiative is going to nursing homes to offer therapy to residents and train staff on how to deal with patients who have experienced trauma.

“If they’ve had abuse, a lot of times that doesn’t come out until they’re older,” Wiley said. As people lose their independence with age, memories of violence can come to the surface.

How to help

Friends, family members or landlords of people experiencing domestic violence should be careful not to shame the victim, Wiley advised.

“They already feel enough guilt, shame and blame for staying,” she said.

It can be dangerous to give victims brochures with information. Wiley suggests saying: “When you’re ready, call me or call this place.” She said that tells victims someone is out there waiting for them to be ready to leave.

If it is necessary to call the police because of a domestic violence incident, Wiley said to call them “intelligently.”

“Give the most information possible to the police,” Wiley said, especially if there is known to be guns in the house.

The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Wareham Police Department is taking part in a month-long toiletry drive throughout October to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“We all have the right to live without fear and we all play a part in the solution to end domestic violence,” said Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz in a press release.

The South Shore Resource and Advocacy Center is always looking for volunteers, Kathleen said. After a thorough training, volunteers can work at the 24-hour hotline or in the courts. People can also donate to the center, which accepts food items and new clothes. Food donations are especially needed around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When you visit South Shore Resource and Advocacy Center’s website, there’s a link at the top of the page: “Click here if you need to leave this site quickly.”

The link takes the user to an innocuous Google search for chocolate chip cookies.