Building Resilience for Domestic Violence Victims in Our Community

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For decades, I have seen just how pervasive domestic violence and abuse is in our communities. Since entering the legal field, I have witnessed the obstacles my clients face in a complex and intimidating system as they bravely take on one of the most dangerous periods in their lives.

It’s something you cannot accept after you’ve seen it. It’s something we must change.

There are people on the ground working for this change; over the past several years, I have joined their ranks. I am honored to announce that yesterday, I was elected the President of the Board for an organization near and dear to my heart: The Domestic Violence Service Network (DVSN).

DVSN specializes in illuminating and ameliorating the issues domestic violence victims face here in Middlesex. Its community-centric mission is critical to changing a system that has failed victims for far too long.

Today, I humbly accept this position of leadership by matching all donations to DVSN up to $1,000. Here’s why supporting the organization is so important.

The One that Hits Close to Home

In 2002, a woman named Dorothy sat down with a social worker. She relayed a grave situation with her abusive husband. She was certain he would kill her soon. And yet, she refused the domestic violence shelter offered to her.

She had spent time in shelters, moving from town to town and even across state lines in an effort to keep a roof over her and her daughters’ heads. While pursuing safety, her children were at risk of losing their access to education.

In addition to the unsustainable lifestyle, Dorothy was worried her husband knew the secret location of the local shelters. In a shelter setting, she and her daughters would all be sleeping in the same room. At least if she were at her own house — she reasoned — the children would be sleeping in their own rooms, potentially giving the girls an opportunity to escape their father’s homicidal rage.

Dorothy’s husband ended up in court after violating a restraining order and attacking Dorothy in her own home. He manipulated the weaknesses he knew were baked into the court system. The judge acted without full information, pushing the case through and allowing the husband to leave free.

That weekend, Dorthy’s husband shot her. In her home. She died with her girls in the other room, physically safe as she had hoped. Her husband then turned the gun on himself as the police knocked in the door.

It’s unfortunately all too easy to imagine this situation playing out in any community across America.

But we don’t have to. Dorothy was just up the road in Amesbury, Massachusetts.

Why it’s better to keep victims in their community.

Dorothy’s situation shocked the local community into action. Police, domestic violence advocates, elected officials and healthcare professionals in Amesbury came together to form a task force that now serves as a model for communities across the nation.

These professionals realized that while offering shelter is a necessity for some victims of domestic violence, it’s nowhere near enough. Shelter as the only solution keeps women in a perpetual cycle of homelessness. The shelter system also routinely shuts out battered young men, separating them from their mothers.

If you stay long enough at a shelter, you may be required to leave. Hopefully, you can get a transfer to a new shelter.

Sometimes the only transfer available is across the state. This transient life doesn’t allow survivors the stability necessary to maintain employment, nonetheless heal.

When we empower survivors to continue living in their own communities, they are able to maintain essential social support from friends and family members. We can proactively make those same communities safer by communicating about domestic violence issues across agencies. This communication model has helped prevent more women’s cases from falling through the cracks like Dorothy’s did.

Shelter is necessary in select situations. But, to help more victims of domestic abuse, we need to invest in more than just shelters. We need to provide an alternative to effectively shutting victims out of their own lives.

How the Domestic Violence Service Network Builds Safer Communities

The Domestic Violence Service Network (DVSN) works towards these exact goals. Through various programs, it works to create safer communities through a myriad of services and collaborations.

A few of these community-oriented programs include:

  • Central Middlesex Assessment for Safety Team (CMAST). CMAST is a collaborative effort between the Middlesex DA’s office and DVSN. The team’s goal is to create a cross-agency safety assessment for domestic violence victims who pass through the system.
  • Domestic Violence Victim Assistance Program (DVVAP). Victims often need help the police or doctors they encounter cannot provide. That’s why these professionals refer victims to the DVVAP, connecting victims with local resources. Twelve local police departments and Hanscom Air Force Base participate in the DVVAP, along with health professionals at Emerson Hospital.
  • Court Support System (CSP). DVSN provides trained advocates to the Concord District Court of Middlesex. These advocates serve as in-person guides for victims attempting to navigate the legal system.
  • Free legal assistance. DVSN connects victims with legal services through its established Lawyer for a Day Program and its new partnership with the Women’s Bar Foundation. (Sometimes, DVSN clients will find themselves paired with me!)
  • Support groups. In partnership with the Eliot Center, DVSN provides support groups for victims.
  • Jane Doe, Inc. Partnered with 54 other community organizations, DVSN supports Jane Doe, Inc.’s mission of passing policy that supports victims in the safest and most effective ways possible.
  • Realistic Escape Strategies and Instinct-based Self-defense Training (RESIST). This self-defense course teaches victims tactics that can help them escape.
  • Outreach and education programs. DVSN provides training to community members about domestic violence. The audience can include anyone from police officers to high school students.

This is but a sampling of the programs DVSN provides to empower those enduring domestic violence while keeping them in their own communities.

Help victims build resilience in their own communities.

DVSN works to serve the countless women who cannot benefit from shelter alone. That’s why fundraising for the organization is so vitally important.

Today, June 19th, 2020, marks the 19th day of a 20-day fundraiser for DVSN. To help us reach our fundraising goals, I am personally matching all donations made today up to $1,000. You can make your donation here. Thank you for helping us build systems that empower victims and survivors rather than hiding them away.

Rebecca Neale

Principal Attorney

As an attorney, Rebecca represents people in divorce, custody, and guardianship proceedings. She also advises people about end-of-life decisions and creates estate plans tailored to their needs and goals. Read more about Rebecca’s Experience here.
Bedford Family Law

Bedford, Massachusetts

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