Domestic Violence Advocates Help Youth & Families
By Dianne Anderson
Probably the first step toward getting young girls aware that they have choices when it comes to healthy relationships and self-respect is talking about the topic that most adults try to avoid, even if they are going through it themselves.
In her outreach, Kandee Lewis addresses intimate partner violence, trauma, sexual assault and bullying, usually from the first telltale signs as young as 12 years old.
“If we’re talking to kids about dating violence or healthy relationships, we’re also talking about domestic violence. About 25 % of adults we work with were referred to us by their kids,” she said.
Often, it is a family affair, a cycle of abuse propagated through the generations.
“Most people think that it’s a grown woman or grown man in an abusive relationship, but whoever lives in that house is in that same abusive relationship. If that person is pregnant, the child is also abused,” she said.
Just as studies show that reading to the child is beneficial in the womb, the reverse is true for trauma, screaming and death threats. By the time they’re born, she said babies have been incubated into abuse that impacts their growth and development.
While the baby is still in the womb, they hear. She said when the woman gets hit, the baby gets hit.
In March, her nonprofit program gifted prom gowns, shoes, nails and all things that most girls need and want for the big day, but she talked to many who were afraid of the event.
“What does the prom have to do with domestic violence? A number of girls in abusive relationships are expected to have sex, raped or even beaten at the prom,” she said. “These girls are telling us that they want to go to prom, but don’t want to go because they’re expected to have sex.”
RAINN, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, reports that 90% of adult rape victims are female and that females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
At last count, the 2022 Office of Civil Rights Data Collection Sexual Violence in K-12 Schools report also shows that for 2017-18 there were approximately 14,152 incidents of sexual assault at K-12 schools – a 53 percent increase when compared to the prior collection year of 2015-16.
Lewis regularly gets calls about young, abusive relationships, and she lets them know about their options, whether going to shelter or restraining orders.
Not long ago, she held a workshop at a larger nonprofit agency where she expected to talk to young women about how to get a job, but when she got there, was surprised that her audience was pregnant girls 12 to 16 years old. She readjusted the curriculum to highlight high school diploma opportunities while earning college credits, for free.
“What 12-year-old is going to find a job?” she said.
One of the best things to come out of the workshop is a 14-year-old girl contacted her about three months later.
“She asked if I could talk to her mother and help her the same way because her mother was in an abusive relationship. The parents are no longer in an abusive relationship because of the class we had,” she said.
Things haven’t changed much in the past 50 years, one reason why Radiant Futures, then named Women’s Transitional Living Center, started their first domestic violence outreach in the county.
The program started when a member of the local NOW chapter on women’s reproductive rights noticed that many women were living in their cars with children.
“They started knocking on windows and found women escaping situations of violence in their home and thought maybe we should connect them to resources,” said Alycia Capone, Radient Futures, Chief Advancement Officer.
But organizers were surprised that nothing was available for women.
“These women were seeking reprieve and the next day returned home to the same situation,” she said.
They opened their first location with six beds, but soon came under fire from NIMBY-ism, Not in My Backyard community opposition, and they were accused of meddling with the traditional family structure.
“What happens in the family stays in the family was that whole concept at the time,” Capone said, adding that five years later in 1981, they moved to Fullerton where they are currently housed and serve women in many ways.
But, she said with Orange County in a severe housing crisis with prices beyond fair market value, mothers and children are still living in cars, and about one-third of women are afraid to leave their abusers for fear of driving their kids into homelessness.
“It’s a bizarre way of looking at it, to stay in that situation of abuse, but homelessness is more terrifying. Most of the time when people come in crisis, it’s because their fear of staying far outweighs the fear of leaving,” she said.
Even those working can not sustain the children. The odds are stacked against women, who earn less than men, especially Black and Brown women. Change is not happening as fast as she would like, but she said it is starting to happen.
Last year, their organization helped over 1800 women and 283 men. She said they still work with the population that is fleeing for safety, but they also provide different levels of help on cases that may need legal help and counseling as the primary service.
“We welcome everyone, but it’s still very much a women’s issue,” she said.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2022, the percentage of females murdered by an intimate partner was five times higher than for males.
“Of the estimated 4,970 female victims of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in 2021, data reported by law enforcement agencies indicate that 34% were killed by an intimate partner. By comparison, about 6% of the 17,970 males murdered that year were victims of intimate partner homicide,” BJS states.
Nationally, systems are overwhelmed, but at the local level, Capone is encouraging people to call in if they have questions, and reach out if they need help, sooner rather than later.
“Domestic violence service providers don’t just exist for those in crisis, we exist also to help intervene before it gets that bad or prevent it before it becomes an issue that they’re struggling with,” she said.
For help, call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233
Or, SMS: Text START to 88788
For teens and youth, see https://prc123.org/
For Radiant Futures, https://radiantfutures.org/