ACCIS posts signs, displays throughout city to spead awareness
We've all seen the signs. But have we really read them?
From the darkened silhouettes to the T-shirt clotheslines and window displays with words such as torture, hate, hurt and pain – the message is clear. But do we really understand it?
They're talking about domestic violence, and it's happening everywhere, even here.
According to the Missouri Statistical Analysis Center in Jefferson City, in 2007 and 2008, reports indicate that Audrain County was the third highest in the state for the number of reported domestic violence incidents per 100,000 people.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and many communities including Mexico, are speaking out about the crime and holding events to honor their survivors. For this year's observance, Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services has posted a variety of signs and displays throughout town, to help spread awareness.
Last year, 45 people in Missouri reportedly died from incidents of domestic violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2006 there were 4.8 million incidents of domestic violence against women per year nationwide.
That same year, 588 victims sought help through ACCIS – 343 women, 174 children and 71 men. Of the 546 current clients they are currently serving, 466 are from Audrain County. The majority of the rest are from surrounding areas that ACCIS serves – Boone, Callaway, Montgomery, Mon-roe and Randolph counties. The agency obtained a position for a court advocate in Montgomery County this year, starting in August. A person is stationed there full-time to receive reports.
In 2009, ACCIS served 34 individuals and families with shelter. So far this year, it has served 43 individuals and families. There have been deaths related to domestic violence in Audrain County, but ACCIS Executive Director Sherry Levin is unable to recall them. Those incidents, she said, occurred before she took over the position.
"I have served at ACCIS for over three years, and I am still astonished by the number of people that ask me if domestic violence is a problem in Audrain County. I sometimes wonder where these people live and how they don't see it," Levin told The Ledger. "Every day I am brought face to face with a woman or a child that is reaching out, just trying to survive, just trying to be normal. You don't have to search to find someone in domestic violence, you just have to be willing to open your eyes and not fear talking about the still "taboo" subject.
"Avoidance is easy, but it rarely solves anything and usually just allows the problem to continue to grow."
According to Levin, domestic violence can be physical, verbal or sexual – which is depicted in many of the T-shirts on display in the rotunda of the Audrain County Courthouse.
One of the most vivid shirts is of a woman, who has stabbed her aggressor, and the words read: "Good Love Won't Make You Kill." The picture shows the victim holding a butcher knife, and her aggressor lying on the bed bleeding. The woman's eyes are tear-filled, one blackened, and the words "I hate him. I love him" are written in bubbles surrounding her head.
"Love me, don't hurt me," seems to be the primary plea on most of the shirts displayed at the courthouse. All were designed by victims of domestic violence.
"Women stay (in violent situations) for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is because she wants her family to work. She is often willing to do anything and everything to make it work and make it better, even if it degrades, hurts or kills her. Most mothers I work with simply do not want their children to grow up without fathers or in broken homes," Levin explained. "The second biggest reason I see is fear... fear of retaliation from the abuser, fear of not being able to support herself and her children due to lack of jobs and resources, and fear of never being able to feel the love she desires because the abuser has made her feel so unworthy.
"What I would like to see is for people to stop questioning why the victim stayed, and start questioning why the abuser is acting that way."
The signs are there, Levin said, and the crime is affecting more than just the women who are being abused.
A display at Audrain Medical Center is filled with handmade faces, created by children of domestic violence victims. Each participant was asked to create a face that shows how domestic violence makes them feel. One child, an 11-year-old, drew an image with only her eyes and nose; no mouth.
"This could mean they feel powerless over their situation, that they can't speak up or do anything about it. Maybe that they are not even allowed to have feelings in their situation," Levin said as she tried to explain the drawing. "Many times, victims don't feel like anyone is listening or that anyone will understand. They feel like they are unique.
"Here at ACCIS, we tell them 'though you feel like your case is unique, we see it all the time. You're not alone.'"
There is help.
"ACCIS is here to provide a support system that will empower victims of domestic violence to get out of these type of relationships. We do that not only through case management, where we work with their feelings, but we also help them get housing, emergency shelter, transportation and food. If needed, we will even transport them to try and find employment.
"Whatever their needs are, we try to help them from the ground up."
ACCIS started in 1992 with a hotline. The shelter opened in 1993, and the number of people served, Levin said, has grown tremendously through the years.
"ACCIS recognizes that being in domestic violence is very scary. But we want people to know that there is help, and that we do whatever we can to help victims live an abuse-free life."
In addition to raising awareness with displays, ACCIS is also handing out purple lights for local residents to use on their front porches. The light bulb campaign is a national movement that was launched locally last year. Anyone that would like one can call or visit the office.
ACCIS strives to help victims, but its true wish is for "change."
"My biggest hope is that the community will not only support domestic violence victims, but that there might also be a change in attitude, and in the laws, to hold the abusers accountable, so we might bring an end to the violence that keeps repeating itself," Levin said. "Don't pretend it's not happening. Don't just turn your head and look away."
Or as one victim drew on her shirt: "End Domestic Violence. It is your business."
For more information about domestic violence or how you can help, call Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services at (573) 581-3835, or visit the office at 300 South Morris. Or contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Dr. Phil McGraw from the Dr. Phil Show also announced he's working with the National Network to End Domestic Violence on a season-long campaign to end the silence of the crime.
Victims in need of immediate help can call ACCIS Hotline toll-free at (800)-246-2280.