By Kathy Voigt, Women’s Fund Volunteer
Have you ever arrived home after dark and found yourself taking a wary look around? For many women, darkness holds a very real possibility for danger — from a stalker or an abuser.
“Until you’re actually being stalked by someone, I don’t think that anyone can understand what that takes from a person,” one local woman says. “To not want to leave your home and return alone after dark is a terrible feeling.“
As the pandemic lockdown settled in, the incidence and severity of domestic violence escalated. Isolation was already a powerful tactic for an abuser. As women found themselves in close quarters with their assailants, cut off from supportive services and resources, their chances to flee dwindled.
The staff at Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs knows how hard it is to shake the feelings of fear and anxiety. Having the right tools and the right direction from a helping agency can make all the difference.
“Harbor House made it possible for me to leave without that fear of wondering what would be waiting for me at home,” the woman adds. “It also gave me some sense of security to sleep at night.”
Harbor House is an agency dedicated to the awareness and prevention of domestic abuse, providing shelter and free programming and services for on-site residents and non-residents to keep individuals and families safe. Staff are trained in domestic abuse client advocacy and diversity awareness, with backgrounds in social work, human services and education.
Before the pandemic, statistics showed that 1 in 4 women would be abused by a partner. Now, that ratio has climbed to 1 in 3, according to Cassie McDonald, senior manager of donor relations for Harbor House. McDonald notes domestic violence is the most brutal when a woman attempts to escape. Those statistics are borne out nationally as well as locally, she says.
The work of the Harbor House legal advocate grew significantly as requests for restraining orders, both long- and short-term, increased. It became even more critical for women in dangerous situations to be lawfully protected.
For women who escape their abusive situation, Harbor House offers the Momentum Group to help them explore their own abilities, build self-confidence and plan their future. In 2020, the Women’s Fund awarded a $4,000 Project Grant to Harbor House to support the Momentum Group.
Christy Coenen, who oversees the Momentum Group, explains that as participants, like everyone else, were sheltered at home, the program was put on hiatus until safe ways to connect were devised. How to help different age groups, serve women in outlying areas, address language and cultural needs, and protect young children by working with disputing parents or guardians, were some of the challenges.
Harbor House staff refocused, continuing the Momentum Group as capacity and safety allowed, and requested approval from the Women’s Fund to redirect some of the grant money to bolster supplies of stalker kits. The kits contain information to identify signs of violence, tools to signal for help, emergency phone numbers, lists of victim rights, etc. Many are concealed in unobtrusive containers women might typically carry.
“It’s all about survival,” McDonald says. “I knew the Women’s Fund would understand the level of danger women were in, and would be open to a new direction with the grant. They were fully on board. We provided details so they would know exactly where the money was going, and they were 100 percent behind us.”
Once given approval from the Women’s Fund, staff reassessed contents of the kits, taking into account new technology and other neccesities, and researched pricing options to maximize the tools in the kits. Replenishing of the kits is ongoing, according to Coenen.
“Community support is what keeps people safe,” McDonald says. “And that is what our partnership with the Women’s Fund is all about.”