In Oklahoma, approximately 21 percent of women and 10 percent of men are victims of abuse at some point. And domestic violence does not harm only the direct victims: It contributes to unsafe living conditions for everyone in a household and often results in children being placed in foster care.
And experts says such abuse is also woefully under-reported.
Victims often feel embarrassed or ashamed. It is sometimes difficult for a woman to risk giving up her home, particularly if she and her children are financially dependent on the abuser.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that it may take up to seven attempts before a woman successfully gets away from an abusive relationship. And when she does, she becomes at most risk for increased violence from her partner.
“We are becoming a more violent society,” said Rita Moore, a member of the Chairman’s Capital Council for the YWCA. “We have to show children there is a better way.”
Moore and fellow community leaders Tricia Everest, Kris Frankfurt, David Hudiburg, Charlotte Richels and Lela Sullivan are leading the YWCA’s multimillion-dollar capital campaign to expand its shelter for battered women and children.
The volunteers already have raised more than $11 million toward the $15 million goal.
The YWCA emergency shelter, the only facility of its kind in Oklahoma County, has 52 beds. The number of women needing assistance is far greater than what the YWCA can currently accommodate. Occupancy is nearly always at 100 percent.
The funds will be used to build an 85-bed emergency shelter and convert the existing facility into an extended-stay shelter. The McFarland branch YWCA, 1701 N. Martin Luther King, also will be renovated to provide greater access to crisis services and counseling programs.
Besides providing safe, confidential emergency services to families affected by abuse, the YWCA also offers educational programs and counseling. Last year, the organization assisted 15,000 clients.
“Domestic violence is not acceptable,” said Paige Mills-Haag, YWCA’s development director. “It’s really about having the conversation, even though it may be difficult.”
And having that conversation may save a life. Based on 2010 data from the Violence Policy Center, Oklahoma is ranked 17th in the nation for the number of women murdered by men in singlevictim/single-offender incidents.
To spread awareness, the state Department of Human Services also has instituted a domestic violence campaign. DHS created a task force to lead events and classes and launched a comprehensive website of community resources, okdhs. org/purpleribbon.
“We ultimately want to stop domestic violence before it starts,” said Victoria Harrison, co-chair of the agency’s Domestic Violence Task Force. “We not only want to help our co-workers impacted by domestic violence, we want our employees to help spread the word to families, friends, neighbors and clients.”
Its awareness efforts also are aimed at reducing child abuse and improving the well-being of Oklahoma children.
“Domestic violence has a huge impact on child welfare,” said Deborah Smith, director of DHS Child Welfare Services. “Fifty percent of all child welfare cases include reported domestic violence.
And one-third of all homicides are witnessed by a child.
“This kind of emotional trauma plays a significant role in a child’s development and well-being, and it is one of the biggest risk factors of passing violent behavior from one generation to the next.”
Victims of domestic violence can call Safeline at 800-522-7233. The 24-hour confidential hotline provides help and information for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
For more information, visit ywca.org.