Help is available for domestic abuse survivors, experts say

There are resources available to help survivors of domestic abuse, according to a panel of speakers who talked on the theme of “Safety and Access” on May 6 at the Land O’ Lakes Branch Library.

The panel discussion was organized by the Pasco County Commission on the Status of Women, and supported by the Pasco County Commission.

Cpl. Gina Yoman-Madden, left, and Det. Danni Murphy of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office talked about the law enforcement agency’s efforts to help domestic abuse survivors. (Brian Fernandes)

It was the third in a series of three seminars aimed at empowering Pasco County women.

Representatives from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office explained how that agency seeks to assist abused women.

“I work with victims of intimate-partner domestic violence,” Det. Danni Murphy said.

In investigating abusive households, she works alongside victim advocates, such as Cpl. Gina Yoman-Madden.

As a team, they assist the survivor from the crime scene all the way to the courtroom hearings, providing guidance and referring them to community resources.

The unit now has five victim advocates, who are on call 24/7, Yoman-Madden said.

The advocates serve as liaisons for the survivors and often work alongside state attorneys to seek justice.

The sheriff’s office also has direct contact with offenders, and checks on the top 100 offenders each quarter, Murphy said. “It’s a way for us to be proactive,” she added.

Perpetrators are directed to resources that can help with issues such as substance abuse or anger management.

Some assistance is voluntary. Some offenders, however, must attend court-ordered counseling sessions.

Despite the availability of these services, the law enforcement professionals said there are still obstacles.

One of the biggest obstacles is that domestic violence cases often go unreported, Murphy said.

Some survivors may fail to come forward because they must rely on their abusive partner for financial help or transportation, Yoman-Madden said.

There is a program designed to help with that.

Funded with a grant, victim advocate technicians transport survivors to important engagements, such as court hearings, doctor’s appointments or counseling sessions.

Victim advocates, working out of the sheriff’s office, also help to identify people who are trapped in a cycle of abuse.

The sheriff’s office also partners with other organizations with the goal of helping survivors improve their economic prospects.

Many survivors are referred to the Sunrise of Pasco County Inc. – Domestic & Sexual Violence Center for assistance.

Noelle Polk-Clark, the center’s attorney, was another presenter at the seminar.

She talked about what Sunrise does.

She began her talk by showing a clip from the British documentary “Behind Closed Doors,” — providing an up-close glimpse of domestic violence.

Polk-Clark explained that, like the couple portrayed in the film, the abuser in a relationship often “programs” the target of their abuse to believe that the abuser’s actions are not so bad.

“The grip of control is so profound,” Polk-Clark explained.

Sunrise, which is funded through local, state and federal sources, provides a 40-bed shelter in Dade City.

It has a 24-hour hotline, a case management team, counseling, legal advocacy, support groups and a thrift store.

Polk-Clark oversees the Injunction for Protection Project (IFP).

The project relies on the testimony of the abused in order to form a case and file a request for an injunction – seeking to keep the offender away at a safe distance.

“If an injunction is in place, studies show that the incidents of violence decrease,” Polk-Clark said.

In 2009, Sunrise and the sheriff’s office collaborated to create the Intimate Violence Enhanced Service Team (InVEST).

Working together, the agencies make referrals to each other and keep one another in the loop regarding the status of survivors — aimed at reducing the risk of homicide.

Polk-Clark noted that domestic violence incidents cross economic lines.

But, homeless women are particularly vulnerable, according to Don Anderson, CEO of the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County, another panelist at the seminar.

The Homeless Coalition works with Sunrise and the sheriff’s office to address issues facing the homeless.

Anderson shared some startling statistics.

Ninety-two percent of homeless women have experienced physical assault, Anderson said. Sixty-three percent of those were abused by their own partner, he said.

The Homeless Coalition is supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Florida Department of Children and Families.

With these funds, programs can be implemented like the homeless prevention, to help families on the verge of losing their home.

“We’re working with individuals and families that are in trouble now,” Anderson said. “We do our best to provide back-rent, utility deposits [and] any number of things that ensure they stay in their home.”

It also provides anywhere from 300 to 400 people a month with showers, toiletries, clothes and meals at the New Port Richey office.

For additional information on Sunrise of Pasco County Inc., call (352) 521-3358, or visit SunrisePasco.org.

To learn more on the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County, call (727) 842-8605, or visit PascoHomelessCoalition.org.

Published May 15, 2019

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