"Very often batterers are extremely skilled at putting forward a public image where people would not believe they could be violent at home," said Sherry Levin, executive director of Audrain County Crime and Intervention Services, Inc. But Levin noted, the number of domestic violence survivors that ACCIS sees annually, "don't lie."
In 2009, law enforcement agencies in Missouri reported 36,943 incidents of domestic violence. Last year, 42,484 adults, youth and children received domestic violence services in Missouri, according to Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence statistics.
Levin said the Missouri figures on an average day are a great reflection of the local statistics in the areas that ACCIS serves.
In 2008, according to the Missouri Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, Audrain County Sheriff's Office and Mexico Public Safety together reported 584 incidents of domestic violence. In 2009, these combined entities reported 633 incidents. In 2010 and 2011, these same combined entities reported 570 and 564 incidents respectively.
While the numbers vary slightly, Levin said these numbers are still "very high" considering that Audrain County's population is a little more than 25,000 people.
Last year, the county reflected the highest numbers yet. Mexico Public Safety reported 317 incidents and the Audrain County Sheriff's Office shows 378 incidents for a total of 695.
"ACCIS numbers very much reflect the UCR's in the fact that they have also increased," Levin said. She noted advocates here served 515 clients in 2008 and 588 clients in 2009. In 2010, 616 clients were served and in 2011, ACCIS advocates served 645 clients."
In 2012, ACCIS served 787 clients.
"We are currently in the process of expanding our shelter and our shelter programs in hopes of being able to provide more effective services to those in our communities that need help living free of domestic and sexual violence. Every year the majority of girls and women that access ACCIS services are clients who mostly receive services at our outreach facility on Monroe Street. With the shear number of clients we are working with on a daily basis, advocates are always on the go and it is hard to provide the needed one-on-one time with women and children who are entering the emergency shelter with traumatic situations," Levin said.
To improve services to the women and children utilizing ACCIS emergency shelter services, Levin said, the agency has restructured advocate schedules to provide for more direct services – including one-on-one advocacy sessions.
"We are also currently looking for more volunteers to help provide shelter coverage for all hours of the day and night. We hope that some of these changes will help women to more quickly be able to accomplish their goals and to establish new households that are free of abuse," Levin said.
Audrain County Crisis Intervention is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1992 by a group of citizens in Audrain County who were concerned with the growing rate of domestic violence every year in Missouri. With the help of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, those citizens were able to form ACCIS and start a hotline to help women in these types of situations. Twenty-one years later, this organization is still going strong, with a shelter for battered women, a transitional housing unit, a court advocate to provide legal assistance, and a staff of victim/survivor advocates to assist women with community resources and help get them back on their feet.
Page 2 of 2 - In 2006, ACCIS became a dual program and also works with girls and women who have been raped or sexually abused. ACCIS participated in the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April which included participation in Denim Day. ACCIS helped spread public awareness in Mexico with a variety of displays including the AMC hospital window, the library, passing out teal ribbons, and placing jean statues with local sexual violence statistics.
Levin said the number of sexual violence clients in Audrain County has also increased dramatically in the last couple of years. In 2011, ACCIS provided services to 57 sexual violence clients and in 2012 provided services to 87 sexual violence clients. This year already ACCIS advocates have worked with 65 clients.
"ACCIS continues to provide sexual violence services because of the great need for them in our service area," Levin said. She added that ACCIS annually tries to bring awareness and education to the community by participating in national events in hopes that education will be the key to decreasing and ultimately ending domestic and sexual violence.
"Sometimes it's hard for people to get involved because they don't understand the facts about violence. No one wants to get involved, we turn our heads thinking it's not our business. However, individual involvement is the only way to shed light on this issue," Levin said. "Individuals can show support by getting educated about violence, learning where to send survivors of abuse for help, and holding abusers accountable for their actions. Abuse survivors in our communities need to know they don't stand alone and that there is help for them."
Levin added "batterers and rapists need to know that their actions are not going to be tolerated legally or socially."
She added: "By not addressing these actions with our families or friends who do abuse, we are allowing the abuse to continue. "
For more information about ACCIS, its services, or its battered women's shelter, call (573) 581-3835. The ACCIS hotline number is 581-2280 or toll free at 1-800-246-2280.