Darlene Thomas: Community response urgent to stop partner violence

Thomas is executive director of GreenHouse17, which provides domestic-violence services in Central
Darlene Thomas is executive director of GreenHouse17, which provides domestic-violence services in Central Kentucky.

By Darlene Thomas

Intimate-partner violence is in the news. Our friends and families are having conversations about barriers to leaving, reasons for staying and abuser accountability.

These dialogues are timely because October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I can attest to the devastating effects this crime has on the safety, health and quality of life in our communities. The solution requires a community-based response.

I have witnessed meaningful social change as an advocate for more than 25 years. The Violence Against Women Act and Victims of Crime Act spurred the shift by providing protection and funding. This historic legislation, coupled with a more recent focus on prevention, is working. A recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds the overall rate of intimate-partner violence declined from 1994 to 2010.

Yet there is still much work to be done. Last year more than 4,000 calls for information and support were placed to our 24-hour hotline. Advocates helped nearly 5,000 individuals in courts and support groups and 215 adults and children found safety at our emergency shelter. At any given time, about half of our shelter residents are children.

Abuse escalates without support and advocacy for victims. Individuals, especially those with children, must navigate complex barriers to access these services. Poverty is among the most prevalent of obstacles. After safety is established, a long and often difficult healing journey begins. In addition to the physical wounds, survivors suffer from asthma, anxiety, depression, heart disease and a host of other health ailments at a rate higher than those who have not been abused.

People often ask me, "Why does a person stay?"

The short answer is the power and control exerted by the abuser. Very purposeful isolation, emotional manipulation and lack of access to earned income create barriers to leaving.

Although well-meaning, asking why someone stays sidesteps abuser accountability and community responsibility. More purposeful discussion happens when I pose other questions: Why does the abuser abuse? What barriers do victims face to leaving? Why is it so difficult to get help?

Complex questions require creative solutions. The Mary Byron Project recently presented GreenHouse17 with the national Celebrating Solutions Award for our integration of agricultural programming with traditional victim services.

The farm we operate on the 40-acre property surrounding our emergency shelter provides a source of nature-based healing, field-to-table meals and workplace skills development for survivors of intimate-partner abuse. This approach also has been recognized by the Kentucky Nonprofit Network and Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

These best-practice services are strengthened when each of us demonstrates intolerance for violence and embraces the needs of survivors. Look to our Facebook page, Twitter feed and website to follow the campaign "17 Days/17 Ways to Help End Intimate Partner Abuse."​