October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Franklin County Family Resource Center (FRC) is ready to help with free community services and information.

The FRC, a state-accredited domestic violence program, promotes safe and healthy living environments for Franklin County families who are victims of domestic violence, said Director Cynthia Treadway. "The center strives to reduce domestic violence incidents and increase knowledge, self-esteem and empowerment throughout the county by providing services to the community, promoting community awareness and providing support for victims," said Treadway.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice defines domestic violence as a pattern of physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive behaviors used by one individual to assert power or maintain control over another in the context of an intimate or family relationship.

For a child, that means witnessing, hearing, being told about or seeing the aftermath of abuse and coercive control used against a parent.

In the United States, 15.5 million children live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year. In 2010, the state of Virginia housed 2,625 children in domestic violence shelters. Of those children, 171 stayed in transitional housing due to their parent fleeing an abusive relationship.

The Virginia VaData Report showed 4,367 children receiving domestic violence advocacy services. Child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in families where domestic violence is taking place. Information from the Franklin County FRC shows that children become aware of abuse when they are denied care because their parent is injured or unavailable to take care of them. Some children hear threats of physical harm or death and feel the tension building in the home prior to an assault. Some are forced to watch or participate in violence against their parent or are pitted against the non-violent parent by the abusing parent.

Children living in violent homes find various ways to cope with family violence, Treadway said. Some become truant, violent, sexually active or runaways. Others become addicted to drugs, foods or pornography.

Domestic violence affects children emotionally, behaviorally, socially and physically. A child may feel shame, fear, guilt, powerless, helpless, depression, abandoned or confused. He or she may start acting out or withdrawing. The child may excessively seek attention or take on the role of "caregiver," Treadway said.

Socially, a child may feel isolated from friends and relatives, or express poor anger management and problem solving skills. Some children may get involved in excessive social functions to avoid going home or become engaged in exploitative relationships as perpetrator or victim.

Physical signs of domestic violence in a child include nervousness, lethargy, frequent illness, poor personal hygiene, regression in development and self abuse, Treadway said.

A study by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows that boys who grow up with domestic abuse are more likely to abuse their intimate partners, and girls are less likely to seek help if they become victims in their adult relationships.

Help for domestic violence is available at the Franklin County FRC. All services are free, confidential, non-judgmental, voluntary and informative. Services offered include a 24-hour domestic violence hotline, crisis intervention, danger assessment, safety planning, information and referral, and court and systems advocacy. Other services available include an emergency domestic violence shelter, primary prevention and a children's activity support group.

The center also offers adult support groups and classes in stress and anger management, financial knowledge, parenting, training for professionals, as well as a domestic violence outreach program and follow-up. "We want to help," said Treadway. "We want to speak to groups, teams, organizations, churches and schools. We are not only a source of help for victims, we are a source of information for prevention." The center offers the following suggestions for those who are at risk for domestic violence:

•Plan for quick escape.

•If you believe you are about to be assaulted, try to stay out of rooms where there are weapons, such as guns or knives.

•Keep a list of telephone numbers of family, friends, doctors, shelters, etc.

•Gather important documents, such as birth certificates, passports, prescriptions, social security cards, copies of any protective orders, children's school records, medical records, bank account information, any documents you feel are important to you.

•Put aside emergency money.

•Hide an extra set of car keys.

•Keep an extra set of clothes and shoes for you and your children with a trusted friend.

•Take a special toy for your child.

•Talk to people you trust.

•In case of emergencies, dial 911. For more information, contact the center at (540) 483-5088 or visit www.franklincountyva.org/shelter. The domestic violence hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (540) 483-1234.

STACEY HAIRSTON

The Franklin News-Post