WATERTOWN — In 2020, the total number of victims of domestic violence the Victims Assistance Center served was 959, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Alhough those with the organization hope this does not come to pass, it is expected that numbers will continue to increase this year and surpass last year’s total by the end of December.

The VAC has already assisted 763 victims since Jan. 1 this year. With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the VAC planted 763 purple flags in the ground, one for each victim served, in front of its 418 Washington St. office to show the community how prevalent domestic violence is in the area.

“I think the pandemic definitely played a part in 2020 when people couldn’t get out of the house, maybe they were trapped with their abuser or their perpetrator,” said Kristin L. Proven, VAC development director. “Now we just think it’s the continuing effects of the pandemic. Times are harder for some people and the bail reforms are certainly not helping us there either, I think it’s just a hard time for everyone.”

With Thursday being National Wear Purple Day in support of domestic violence awareness, staff at the VAC were a sea of purple. This is not an isolated occurrence for the organization, which has purple Fridays each week of October.

With the pandemic, numbers significantly increased from what they were in 2019, Mrs. Proven said, and the numbers represent domestic violence victims who have sought help from Jefferson County alone.

Throughout October, VAC has been working on educating the community on domestic violence, how people can be an upstander and not a bystander and how to report instances of violence.

“We do a lot of presentations to different churches and different organizations; we’re in the school districts talking to them about sexual assault and child abuse, of course, but definitely the domestic violence issue is at play there,” Mrs. Proven said. “A lot of people don’t even realize sometimes that they are in a domestic violence situation, so just knowing domestic violence isn’t always physical — it could be emotional or financial — is helpful.”

Alongside those 763 victims, there is the underlying thought that there are plenty more out in the community who, for one reason or another, have not come forward. Mrs. Proven said they may be afraid to or not believe there is a problem, but the VAC is always available to support them and guide them on how to start their lives independently and successfully.

As an agency, VAC strives to meet all victims at a time and in a location convenient for them. To best reach all victims of crime in the community, the organization has a main office on Washington Street and a satellite office in the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.

When an individual seeks help, they first meet with an advocate who provides supportive counseling, assistance with completing applications, assistance with custody and order of protection petitions, restitution, information and referrals for services, accompaniment to law enforcement interviews and court appearances. When ongoing, long-term support is necessary, the client is referred to an agency case manager for additional support and assistance.

The goal of case management is to ensure that clients become self-sufficient. This is achieved by first finding out what the clients’ needs are by completing an assessment. Case managers then partner with area organizations to get the needs of the clients met. Common needs include securing housing, assisting with getting food and medical benefits, getting children enrolled in school, and taking clients to medical appointments.

“We have case managers who help clients from start to finish, really help them gain a sense of independence, help them with their appointments and help them get housing,” Mrs. Proven said. “I think the case managers go above and beyond for their clients, they help them get moved into their new housing, and they make sure that they’re safe and secure and we keep in touch with them as much as the clients want to; we’re there for them from start to finish.”

The VAC Therapy Program provides supportive and crisis counseling, as well as mental health therapy specific to victims of crimes. These services are implemented through individual, group and family therapies. Any person who is a victim of a crime, past or present, may be served under at least one of the programs offered through the VAC. The therapeutic interventions utilized at VAC are always trauma sensitive.

The center also operates a residential home that provides emergency safe housing to individuals and their dependent children in crisis. The home is also a licensed shelter for homeless females and their dependent children. Residents can expect all the amenities they would have at home, including a kitchen and dining area, living room, kids play area, bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry, personal lockboxes, attached garage, food and toiletries.

“Going out into the community, we’re talking to people and letting them know what domestic violence even is, because domestic violence isn’t always physical,” Mrs. Proven said. “It could mean that they’re psychologically or emotionally abusing them which is still domestic violence, or controlling them financially — it’s really all-encompassing.”

Through advocacy and outreach, the hope of those at VAC is that victims will realize they are in a domestic violence situation and think to themselves that they should go talk to someone, or after they’ve been helped, decide to share their story so that they can help other people.

Mrs. Proven said that some people in the community don’t even know the VAC is there, but they want to get the message out that they are, and are ready to help. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office phone line is 315-782-1823. If someone is in need of assistance outside of that timeframe, a 24/7 staffed hotline is also available at 315-782-1855.

After people receive services, VAC staff follow up with clients as much as clients want. Sometimes clients who were assisted years ago will call just to talk about their day or talk about how the VAC helped them and update staff on where they’re at now. A lot of them move away then come back, or they call to say they are safe.

“I actually was just speaking with a past survivor, she was relocated here from downstate, and she was really thankful for the services that she received here and her experience with our staff,” Mrs. Proven said. “They really helped her overcome, and she told me she’s doing really well in college, all of her kids are on the honor roll, and she said they’re in a safe, happy place. It’s great to hear the stories about how we’ve helped and how they’ve overcome their situations.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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