Awareness of domestic violence issues is growing in community

Awareness of domestic violence issues is growing in community by David Lias The Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence is using the concert held April 20 by Mary Green Vickrey in Vermillion to help the community kickoff National Crime Victims' Awareness Week April 22-28.

The coalition maintains a 24-hour hotline at 624-5311 to receive calls for domestic violence assistance.

They also receive referrals from the national hotline, 1-800-799 SAFE (7233).

Local staff and volunteers arrange for temporary shelter and transportation for those in volatile domestic situations and legal assistance in procuring protection orders. Information about domestic violence has been provided in the schools through the program, "Hands are not for Hitting."

"The National Crime Victims' Awareness Week came about because traditionally in a courtroom setting, the perpetrator has all the rights," said Ro Ann Redlin of the Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence (VCADV). "That's how it should be because of the presumption of innocence."

Victims' experiences in the courtrooms therefore can be challenging. "He gets access to all the information and the police statements, he can't be interrogated while in custody and his prior acts can't be brought up," Redlin said. "I think that's how this movement came about."

She added that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been an instrumental force in the victims' rights movement.

"We are working to make sure locally that this coming week is the time to remember the victims of crime," said Sandie Sullivan, outreach coordinator/facilitator of the Women Rising Support Group in Vermillion.

Redlin and Sullivan admit it's easy for people in South Dakota, with its friendly, community-oriented nature, to not be aware that domestic violence is a problem here.

They urge citizens to simply read the court news in their local papers to discover that the state and Vermillion are not immune from the problem.

The Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides:

* A 24-hour hotline (605) 624-5311 to assist with help or information.

* The Women Rising Support Group (605) 624-4022 to help empower women to take back their lives.

* Emergency shelter offering a confidential, temporary safe place for the victims of domestic violence.

* Advocates made up of trained volunteers who serve confidentially and non-judgmentally for the victim.

* Resource information, including lists of medical, counseling, social and legal services.

* Community education via speakers, films, and materials that provide the public with better awareness and information concerning the issues of domestic violence.

Redlin and Sullivan both want to make sure that victims of domestic violence know that the VCADV's services are free of charge and confidential.

Domestic violence is a system of behaviors used to maintain power and control over a partner. Their can be a wide range of abuse, including:

* physical � hitting, pinching, biting, punching, pushing, hair-pulling, etc.

* emotional � name-calling, making a partner feel bad about oneself.

* sexual � forcing a partner to have sex or perform sexual acts against her will.

* financial � controlling all expenditures, using money or the lack of it to keep control.

"We naturally want to work at heightening people's awareness in the next week," Redlin said. "And we want people to know that we're here, where the resources are and how to access those resources."

While there is no permanent safe house facility in Vermillion, the VCADV is part of a shelter network in South Dakota.

"There are about 31 shelters, we are all connected to each other, we take referrals, we transfer people back and forth and many times a woman might be better served in another community," Redlin said.

The VCADV was incorporated in 1978, but didn't operate with paid staff until 1991 after the South Dakota Legislature approved a general appropriation for domestic abuse shelters.

In the last 10 years, Redlin has noticed that more and more people are beginning to realize that domestic violence is a problem in South Dakota and in Vermillion.

"I think people are finding their ways to the shelter," Redlin said.

Statistics indicated that the the heightened awareness of the problem, unfortunately, can't stop it from occurring.

Between April 15, 2000 and April 15, 2001, the VCADV received 256 call on its crisis hotline.

In just this year alone, however, the coalition's hot line calls total 126.

"So that's almost half already this year of what we had for the entire previous year," Sullivan said. "So I think certainly awareness is reaching a point where people know that we're here, and they're willing to get help, and not only that but we get calls all the time to educate.

"We get calls from different service organizations in Clay County, Union County and Turner County," she added. "A lot of people want to learn about what we do."

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