Help Stop Domestic Violence in Virginia
Written by Stacey Sheppard, director of TAP’s Domestic Violence Services.
Violence is Up Statewide
Sexual and domestic violence advocacy agencies across the Commonwealth conducted a needs assessment in Virginia, with some shocking results. The forthcoming study’s findings for the Roanoke Valley make for no easier reading than the rest of it. As the director of TAP’s Domestic Violence Services program, I know all too well that domestic violence is here in our community. The good news is that together we can help stop it.
As an advocate working in the system described in the study, I feel both incredibly proud to be part of our statewide efforts to keep families safe and certain our communities must continue to help us in this work! The need was high, even before the pandemic. When we join the fight against domestic violence, we’re helping our neighbors, families, friends, and colleagues.
Elevated levels of violence in the past few years are testing the limits of the system statewide. As the report’s interviewers put it, “we could see and feel the cumulative stress/trauma in many of the agencies we visited.” High demand for critical services, burnout among workers, and threadbare funding streams to bolster advocacy programs—all of these and more raised the interviewers’ concerns. Further, these high rates of violence show no signs of slowing down. One advocate I know recently noted seeing “a lot more death than usual.” We are seeing more use of firearms, more untreated addiction, and an escalation in homelessness, food insecurities, and other needs. As one staff TAP DVS staff member put it, “The need and the lift is heavy.”
Doing Our Part to Stop Domestic Violence
At TAP DVS, we find it almost impossible to describe the work our advocates have done in the past few years. Even the term “superhero” comes up short. Our small staff, like everyone, has been navigating personal journeys of fear, anxiety, and confusion about the pandemic, and journeys of loss and grief and figuring out how to attend to their own health needs. They’ve worked tirelessly to find safe places for families to stay. They’ve responded to calls in the middle of the night over and over again, because they know what’s at stake.
They feel the weight of these challenges, but they’re made of stern stuff. Our front-line workers will put their best foot forward every day to save lives.
Among the forces buffeting our small staff have been an unprecedented level of burnout and stress; personal and family COVID-related needs; and the sense that no matter how hard they work, the number of people needing their skills and services is still rising. And the work is relentless, often entailing aiding clients who are in extreme danger. This means that both clients and staff spend hours—sometimes weeks—in a state of high alert. For the staff members who have clung on through these trials, and for the ones who joined the team knowing exactly what the need was, it was nothing short of heroic.
Since the start of COVID, the staff at TAP DVS has:
- Answered some 2,057 hotline calls
- Found safe housing for 118 individuals
- Relocated and additional 49 individuals
- Provided personalized safety-planning and advocacy to 468 families
- Facilitated donations of thousands of household items, clothes, and furniture. Every one of these efforts represent a step to help stop domestic violence in our community.
Sharing the Burden
At an agency like TAP, and for a small team like DVS, having partners in this work is essential. Other agencies like the Sexual Assault Response & Advocacy (SARA) program, Family Service of Roanoke Valley, and many others help ease the burden. But they, too, are feeling the same effects of being overburdened and exhausted. Law enforcement and hospital emergency departments also respond to domestic and sexual violence 24/7 and still have to perform their work with fluctuating levels of COVID-19. They, too, also face high rates of violence.
As an advocate, I can recognize the signs of the stress and trauma described in the state assessment throughout the whole system. As the director and colleague of these incredible warriors in a daily battle for peace, I could not be prouder to walk beside them.
To Do the Work, We Need Your Help, Too
Not everyone has the experience, the emotional inclination, and the training to get right on the front lines and do domestic and sexual violence advocacy. Even without those things, you can get involved—and make a big difference.
The families we’re serving have often fled violent homes, and they need basic things that we can’t always provide. From diapers and formula, to groceries, new work attire, school supplies, and furniture for new apartments, our families are so often starting over with nothing.
We’re relocating more families than ever before, which means local donations give my staff the ability to answer questions with, “don’t worry about that part—you focus on staying safe, and taking care of your family, and we will take care of the details.” This is true here at TAP-DVS, and it’s also true of our partners. There are more families in need than before, and when they make brave choices to start new, violence-free lives, the concrete support we provide helps them keep going in tough moments. These things are small, but they help stop domestic violence by keeping a family in a safe situation.
Domestic violence is all around us, and it’s often so well-hidden we don’t recognize it until it’s gotten out-of-hand. But each time we make a safety plan or relocate a family, we help stop domestic violence in one more family.
This October, Help Stop Domestic Violence
If you have an opportunity this October, thank an advocate—they have saved a life, and in some cases, they’ve saved hundreds of lives. And they might have helped someone you know—someone you work with, live next to, are even related to.
If you want to do more and don’t know where to start, please consider making a donation to TAP-DVS. Or to one of our partners (they’re facing the same needs, too!). Consider helping out as a volunteer. Organize a fundraiser: get church groups, parent groups, even weekly poker games to contribute this month. Write editorials. Talk to your friends and neighbors. All of it helps. Whatever feels right, please consider doing something more this month.
Together we can use the month of October as an opportunity to step it up across the whole region. We can impact so many families when we work collectively. We do this work because it’s not just the right thing to do, but because it feels good to take a stand against violence.
On behalf of TAP Domestic Violence Services, the staff, and on behalf of survivors, we need your help. This October, take a stand with us.
-Stacey Sheppard, Director of TAP Housing and Human Services, October 2022