By Beth Lawrence

 

The Center for Domestic Peace now has another tool in its kit to reach victims and spread awareness of domestic violence.

The Rural, Socially Isolated Victims program, as it is informally known, begins this month. The focus is accurately described by the name, bringing resources and information to Jackson County’s rural communities such as Tuckaseigee and Cashiers.

“The plan is to take one of our current advocates and dedicate a little bit of their time into going out to the rural institutions, be that churches, small convenience stores, gas stations, things like that and present them with specific materials to help them if they were to see some(one) being victimized,” Director Wesley Myers said.

That information could be what constitutes abuse, where to turn for help or how neighbors can safely get information about resources to victims.

Kat Smith will head the program and has already begun coordinating with the community.

Smith has also developed clever and innovative ways to get information directly to victims, such as hiding CDP contact information in everyday objects.

“You have to get pretty sneaky about it when you’re trying to keep those people safe,” Myers said.

Myers still finds some in isolated areas who cling to the idea that a man is head of household; therefore, they don’t always recognize when a partner oversteps boundaries into abuse.

“Breaking that idea in people’s mind is difficult, especially for victims that come in with a lot that guilt they feel,” he said. “It leads them not to want to press criminal charges and not even do the civil no-contact order. They resist that idea because they don’t necessarily see the wrongness of the offender’s actions because of how they grew up.”

The isolation of a rural area sometimes exacerbates that ideology. Isolation and lack of information are two things the program hopes to combat.

Another problem in rural areas is a lack of transportation, both personal and public, meaning victims can’t always slip away from abusers and go into town for help.

“The transportation issues is the one that I end up beating my head against a table at least once a week trying to figure out how we’re going to get somebody to our office,” Myers said.

Response time for law enforcement is another issue abuse victims in rural areas face. Domestic violence situations often escalate quickly, but sheriff’s office response to isolated areas can be slow due to the time it takes to traverse the county.

“They’re going to be waiting 20, 30 minutes or even longer in some cases to get a response,” Myers said. “That’s why we really want to reach those victims making sure we get them a safety plan that gives them enough time for law enforcement to respond.”

The startup program was funded by a $15,000 People in Need grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and a $7,500 grant from the Church of the Good Shepherd in Cashiers.

Myers applied for a Victims of Crime Act Funding for Underserved Crime Victims grant from the Governors Crime Commission to finance the program in the future. If they receive the state funds, Myers plans to expand the program to include the Spanish-speaking community.

“It is one of our more simple programs, but I think it’s going to have a lot of impact,” Myers said.