By Stacey Umhey, Executive Director, SAFE (Supporters of Abuse Free Environments)
This week, Ravalli County conducts its annual White Ribbon Campaign, encouraging all members of the community to wear a white ribbon as a way of showing your commitment to not condone, commit or support violence against women. The campaign, sponsored by the Ravalli County Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. is now in its 15th year. The Coalition is a group of concerned professionals and community members that work together to create a coordinated community response to the issues of domestic and sexual violence while also working to prevent these crimes from occurring.
We’ve all been working together for a very long time to mitigate the damaging effects of domestic and sexual violence. SAFE has been working to decrease the incidence and impact of domestic and sexual violence for the last twenty-five years. What have we accomplished in those years? Well, at SAFE, we serve an average of 475 individuals each year. Of these folks, about 300 are adult victims of domestic or sexual violence or are experiencing some other type of crisis necessitating their reaching out to an organization like SAFE. Of those 475 individuals, an average of 70 are children who have lived in homes where violence is present. The remaining 100 individuals are community members – mothers, fathers, friends, other service providers, law enforcement officers and other folks who call or come to SAFE to gather information they need to help those they love. If you look at these numbers over the last twenty-five years, we’ve served well over 10,000 members of our community.
And who are these folks we’ve been serving over the last twenty-five years? I would imagine that anyone reading this article knows at least one or two people who have been helped at SAFE. The people we serve are the same folks that you share your office with, your pew with, your neighborhood with, your family dinners with. The people we serve are us. We’ve all been touched by domestic and sexual violence – whether we’ve experienced or witnessed violence, helped someone we know, or even if we’ve simply read tragic stories in the local newspaper.
We know a lot about domestic and sexual violence now that we didn’t know when we first started working together. Yet, here’s the thing – SAFE still serves an average of 475 people each year. To date in 2013, Ravalli County courts have issued over 200 Orders of Protection. Ravalli County courts also report over 85 misdemeanor and 16 felony cases of Partner Family Member Assault so far this year. In addition, Ravalli County District Court reports 74 felony sex crimes to date this year.
When I see these numbers, it’s easy to get discouraged and wonder if our community efforts are having any type of lasting impact. It’s easy to think that nothing we do will make much of a difference. It’s easy to think that wearing a white ribbon is such a small task – how can it possibly make a difference? What’s not always quite so easy is to keep going in the face of the continued use of violence in relationships. We keep going because we must. We keep going because there will always be a next generation that deserves to live in a violence-free community. We keep going because we do, in fact, see changes in the community and in our world.
I think about the jokes that I heard as a child, that are deemed inappropriate now – not just by me, but by most of us. That’s social change. I think about the assumption that many of us held that “big” violence in relationships wasn’t ok, but a push, maybe a shove or a slap, well, sometimes that just happened. Twenty-five years later, we all know that’s not ok. That’s social change.
Last week, I attended the Report to the Community, an event hosted by the Coalition. At the event, I heard from people who were here when SAFE and the Coalition were in their early stages. At the event, I realized that while so much about our work has changed, one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to helping families live safely.
Changing our community and our world is difficult, slow-going business. But, I think it’s worth it. I hope you agree and continue to support this work that we all share by talking early, talking often and modeling respect. One way to do this is to proudly wear your white ribbon and tell others why you do. Together, we can create a future free of violence.