News

Domestic violence one of the biggest problems in Wilkes County

By Frances Hayes
Wilkes Journal-Patriot
February 7, 2017

Domestic violence continues to be one of the biggest social and economic problems facing Wilkes County and the nation, said the shelter manager for SAFE (Sheltered Aid to Families in Emergencies).

“The effects of domestic violence in our society are so alarming, but impossible to quantify. Therefore, we as an entire nation suffer from the effects,” added Donyetta Felder.

One study said the total cost of domestic violence to the U.S. economy exceeds $8 billion a year. This includes $727.8 million for lost productivity or nearly 8 million paid workdays lost each year.

There was a 245 percent increase in domestic calls for service in Wilkes from 2012 to 2015, even though overall crime rates here are trending downward, according to the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office.

There was also a 145 percent increase in domestic violence protective orders and a 25 percent increase in sexual assault-related incidents from 2012 to 2015 in Wilkes, the sheriff’s office reported.

There also was an increase in services provided by SAFE, which serves victims of domestic violence.

Felder said the 14-bed SAFE shelter served 186 people in 2016. Almost half of those were children, demonstrating the impact on all members of a family.

“When we look at domestic violence from a financial stand point, abuse victims and their children need, seek and require a lot of care, love, support and resources immediately, as well as long term,” said Felder.

State and county expense include time spent by law enforcement officers, courts, lawyers and public health workers. Felder said the expense also includes social welfare programs, domestic violence organizations, counseling services, hotlines and other agencies associated with domestic violence.

“There is high cost and a high turnover to the productivity of our employment in the form of absenteeism, new hires and decreased productivity. The cost to the educational system is large because of the services required for children suffering from behavioral problems and other unknown problems resulting from the aftermath of domestic violence,” said Felder.

A vast majority will require medical care for stress-related illnesses, mental health care for anxiety, depression, panic, and shock. They may end up costing the state money in the legal system, will have academic difficulties, may drop out of school, mirror the abusive behavior or become victims, said Felder.

Effect on families

Lynn Durchman, a local counselor, has worked with domestic violence victims since 1999 and knows too well the cost to victims and children.

“Domestic abuse isolates the victim from family and friends. It makes it difficult for the victim to work as injuries may result in absenteeism or disruptions in the workplace,” said Durchman.

“It has a profound effect on the family. Children may have problems in school with concentration and peer relationships. Because the home environment is unsafe, a child might demonstrate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Sadly, a child might act out in school with the same behaviors they witness at home—verbal and physical aggression. The effects of growing up in an abusive home can have lifelong repercussions as these children may become abusers themselves or unconsciously seek out abusive partners,” said Durchman.

Abuse cuts across all social-economic levels with perpetrators usually known to the victims. “Most have not been assaulted by strangers,” said Durchman.

Durchman said the overwhelming majority of women she works with who are just released from prison are victims of sexual or domestic violence.

“It is intertwined and seems to set people up for victimization in various ways,” said Durchman.

“Prior abuse seems to lead toward a pattern of self-sabotage or self-defeating behaviors. Women, typically, begin a relationship too quickly with inappropriate people.

Warning traits in potential mates range from controlling behaviors and inability to see other people’s point of view on to addiction to drugs or alcohol, a criminal record, no job and no driver’s license.
The violence often begins in a relationship when a woman is pregnant and most vulnerable, said Durchman.

Initially the abuse begins verbally and then escalates to pushing, shoving and slapping. The victim may mistakenly think she can control the situation, especially if the perpetrator apologizes and says it will never happen again, said Durchman.

“But usually once it turns bad, it stays bad.”

Women typically leave an average of 7 times before it is permanent. “That is the cycle of abuse,” said Durchman.

She also referred to the “abuser playbook” with typical behaviors displayed by perpetrators. It begins with asking for forgiveness for abuse, followed by threats. Promises of going to a counselor or attending church are often made by perpetrators to demonstrate they have changed.

Finally “dirty tricks” such as stalking or creating scenes at a woman’s workplace can occur. “Anything to make her dependent,” said Durchman.
If the person stays, the situation can worsen with the victim receiving permanent damage through concussions, broken bones and more.

Challenges can continue to face a survivor of domestic violence once she leaves the abusive situation, says Durchman. Agencies such as SAFE and others work together to better address the barriers created by the system.

Services provided by SAFE include court advocacy with assistance in attaining protective orders and accompaniment to civil and criminal hearings, counseling by a licensed professional, survivor support groups, hospital response and shelter.

Felder stressed there are many local agencies assisting SAFE with survivors of domestic violence. They include Wilkes Ministry of h.o.p.e., Habitat Restore, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church (Step Ahead), Cato, Community Churches, Ebenezer’s Attic, Lowes, Our House and the court and justice system.

For more information call 336-838-9169.

Anonymous reporting allows rape victims to heal before involving police

January 2012

It's a terrifying situation. You're a woman having car trouble. You accept a ride with a man, and he rapes you.
 
Imagine the intense flood of emotions afterward. You feel ashamed, vulnerable and frightened. You fear your attacker and dread the reaction of your family and friends if they find out what happened to you. You've heard about rape victims who were revictimized by the legal system, and you don't want that to happen to you.
 
You need immediate medical attention, but would you go to the hospital for help if you knew you had to face the police, too?
 
Fortunately, rape victims in North Carolina no longer face this choice. State law gives rape victims the option to seek medical treatment without reporting the crime to law enforcement.
 
Sexual assault victims in North Carolina are entitled to forensic medical exams at no out-of-pocket cost. Evidence gathered in the exams can be held anonymously for up to one year, giving the victims time to decide whether or not to report the attack.
 
Representatives of Wilkes Regional Medical Center, the North Wilkesboro Police Department, the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office and the Wilkesboro Police Department recently signed an agreement reaffirming their commitment to the anonymous reporting option.
 
The anonymous reporting option empowers victims, says Kristi Thomas, executive director of SAFE, Inc., the local nonprofit agency that serves victims of sexual assault.
 
“During a sexual assault, all your power is taken away. This awful thing is happening and you cannot stop it. Anonymous reporting lets victims choose which path to take. The victim is back in control and has the power to decide what happens next, and that is the first step in healing.”
 
At Wilkes Regional Medical Center, a specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner treats sexual assault victims. SAFE victim advocates are available around the clock, and can be called to the hospital to support victims and help them explore their options.
 
SAFE’s Rebecca Parker has worked with victims at the hospital for the past five years. “Many women in this situation are angry,” she says. “Some of them get fed up and just walk out, but fortunately things are changing.”
 
SAFE is working with Wilkes Regional to be sure all sexual assault victims are told about the “Jane Doe” reporting option. Victims are also offered support if they decide to make an immediate report to police. Immediate reports give law enforcement the best chance to recover evidence from the suspect and the crime scene.
 
Some sexual assault cases must be reported, regardless of victim consent. Cases involving juveniles and disabled adults, regardless of age, must be reported to the Department of Social Services.
 
If the experience of other communities repeats here, the number of exams and rape reports will increase as the word about anonymous reporting spreads.
 
“Reporting systems that force—or are perceived to force—immediate all-or-nothing decisions whether to pursue investigation understandably scare off some victims,” says Sabrina Garcia, an officer with the Chapel Hill Police Department and a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault reporting.
 
In Chapel Hill, where anonymous reporting has been offered for years, the “Jane Doe” option led to an increase in sexual assault reports. Over a ten year period there, 22 percent of victims who chose anonymous reporting decided later to report. In the U.S. military, where anonymous reporting has been allowed since 2005, about 25 percent of anonymous reporters later decided to report.
 
“(With anonymous reporting), the integrity of the evidence is maintained while the victims have time to heal, consider their options, and make decisions,” Garcia says.
 
Increasing the percentage of victims who report is important, because rape is a notoriously underreported crime. The FBI estimates only 16 percent of sexual assault victims ever report.
 
SAFE’s Crisis Line, 838-SAFE (336-838-7233), is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide confidential advice and support to sexual assault victims and survivors. Additional information for victims of sexual assault is available at SAFE’s website, www.safewilkes.org.
 
All SAFE services are offered free of charge. SAFE is a United Way of Wilkes partner agency.

Community partners met recently to reaffirm their commitment to the anonymous reporting option for victims of sexual assault. Top row from the left: Erica Walker, chairperson, SAFE, Inc. Board of Directors; Kristi Thomas, SAFE, Inc. Executive Director; and Sandy Sheppard, Wilkes Regional Medical Center’s Vice President of Nursing Services. Bottom row from the left: Tom Horner, District Attorney, 23rd Prosecutorial District; Chris Shew, Wilkes County Sheriff; Joe Rankin, North Wilkesboro Chief of Police; and Capt. Tommy Rhodes, representing the Wilkesboro Police Department.

 

SAFE, Partners Launch Effort to Start Center for Sexually Abused Children

November 2011

Key community partners recently announced they will work together to establish a center to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases. 
SAFE, Inc., the Wilkes Department of Social Services, the 23rd District Attorney’s office and all three local law enforcement agencies signed a letter of commitment to support the development, implementation and operation of an accredited child advocacy center in Wilkes County.The agreement also recognizes SAFE, Inc. as the lead agency in the development of the center. The agreement was signed Nov. 17 in a meeting at Rose Glen Village in Wilkesboro. 
 
Key community partners recently announced they will work together to establish a center to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases.
 
SAFE, Inc., the Wilkes Department of Social Services, the 23rd District Attorney’s office and all three local law enforcement agencies signed a letter of commitment to support the development, implementation and operation of an accredited child advocacy center in Wilkes County.The agreement also recognizes SAFE, Inc. as the lead agency in the development of the center. The agreement was signed Nov. 17 in a meeting at Rose Glen Village in Wilkesboro.
Organizers say an accredited child advocacy center will improve care for sexually abused children.
 
Accredited child advocacy centers bring medical services, counseling and victim advocacy together all under one roof. Accredited centers also have specially-trained multidisciplinary teams that work together to coordinate care and assure justice for victims.
 
“Currently, many child sex abuse victims are carted to Winston-Salem or Statesville for investigative interviews and medical exams. Victims are forced to tell their horrific stories over and over to multiple people. A center in Wilkes will change all that,” said Kristi Thomas, SAFE’s executive director.
 
At accredited CACs, children are questioned once by a trained forensic interviewer in a private, child-friendly environment. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors look on from another room via closed circuit TV. The interview is recorded and can be used in court.
 
Traumatization can occur each time a child relates an abusive incident. Eliminating duplicative interviews helps children heal. Investigators and prosecutors also favor the approach because repeated interviews can negatively influence the reliability of a child’s testimony.
 
The center will also provide a continuum of care not currently available locally under one roof. Counseling and victim advocacy services will be available to victims and non-offending family members after initial investigations are completed.
 
“Coordinated, convenient after care helps victims heal, and it’s a big reason why there is such strong support for a full-service center in Wilkes,” Ms. Thomas said.
 
The move to establish an accredited child advocacy center in Wilkes began in March when SAFE brought together representatives of Wilkes Regional Medical Center, law enforcement, the Department of Social Services and the District Attorney’s office to discuss the community’s response to sexual assaults. Participants identified a need to improve care for sexually abused children.
 
In June, SAFE brought Cathy Purvis, executive director of Child Advocacy Centers of North Carolina, to Wilkes. Mrs. Purvis discussed the benefits CACs offer to children and the agencies working to protect them. Since then, a local planning team has met monthly reviewing national accreditation standards and gathering data on the need for the center.
 
Preliminary data indicates more than 100 Wilkes County children a year may be victims of sexual abuse.
 
SAFE is currently seeking start-up funding for the center. “We are several years from becoming an accredited center, but hope to start serving clients in 2013 under a provisional license,” Ms. Thomas said.
 
The CAC planning team meets at 2 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at Rose Glen Village in Wilkesboro. The meetings are open to the public. 

Key community partners signed an agreement Nov. 17, 2011 to cooperate in the development of a child advocacy center to serve Wilkes County child sexual abuse victims. Seated from left: District Attorney Tom Horner, Wilkes County Sheriff Chris Shew, North Wilkesboro Police Chief Joe Rankin and Captain Tommy Rhodes, representing the Wilkesboro Police Department on behalf of Chief Robert Bowlin. Standing from left: SAFE Executive Director Kristi Thomas, Wilkes County Department of Social Services Director Bill Sebastian and SAFE Board Chairperson Erica Walker.

 

Artist Shares Story of Abuse and Recovery

April 2015 

Artist and domestic violence survivor Michelle Johnson Major shared her story of healing after abuse in a talk at Wilkes Community College April 8th. 

In an emotional hour-long presentation, Major told how a man she loved morphed into a monster who nearly took her life. 

Their relationship started innocently enough with a meeting at church at Christmas time in 2006. Major, a high school art teacher, fell head over heels. 

“He was just so charming, so amazing. We had the most intense conversations. He was all about me,” she said. 

The relationship developed quickly. Soon he was calling her all the time, wanting to spend every spare moment with her. He even showed up at her work place unannounced one day and put rose petals on her car. 

The attention was flattering at first, Major said, but before long, it became smothering. “I got to the point where I didn’t see my family a lot. I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” Major said. 

Looking back, there were other signs the relationship wasn’t healthy, but Major said at the time she was too smitten to see them. Her new boyfriend told her he had been convicted of assaulting a former girlfriend, but he convinced her he’d been falsely accused. He also had a drug problem. He’d berate her and call her nasty names when he was high, but would later apologize and promise not to do it again. 

“He seemed like someone trying very hard to beat his demons,” Major told a crowd in WCC’s Mayes Pit. “I thought, with my love, he could stop.” 

After a seven-month courtship, the couple married in July 2007. Four months later, Major became pregnant. 

“The excitement of the pregnancy quickly faded,” Major said. She said her husband resented not being the center of attention. 

“He started getting really mean,” Major told an audience of college students and community members. Her husband had been verbally abusive before, but now he began pushing and elbowing her. He also tightened his grip on every facet of her life. He monitored her e-mails, kept tabs on her every move and controlled all her money. 

In mid 2008, as she entered the final trimester of her pregnancy, the abuse got worse. 

Her husband knocked her down when she was seven months pregnant, but she was too embarrassed to tell anyone. To everyone at church, Michelle and her husband were the fairytale couple, an image she worked hard to maintain. She also kept her family in the dark. 

“I definitely didn’t tell my mama,” she said. “I kept hanging onto hope he would change.” 

After their daughter was born, things got better for a little while, but it didn’t last. The baby became one more thing he could use to get to her. “If you ever leave me and take my baby, I’ll kill you,” he would threaten. One day, to make his point, he swerved into oncoming traffic. 

Major then pointed toward a painting from that time in her life. It shows a female figure in chains, her face turned downward. 

“I knew I needed to get out, but I didn’t know there were numbers you could call or places that could help,” Major said. Her pastor found out what was going on, but he minimized the abuse and advised the couple to spend more time together. 

The last attacks were the worst.  Five weeks after the birth of their daughter, Michelle’s husband bit her and choked her until the blood vessels in her eyes burst. She left and took the baby to a friend’s house. 

Furious, her husband called police and claimed she had kidnapped the baby. Police investigated, took one look at Michelle and knew she was a victim of domestic violence. They offered help, but she refused. 

While she was gone, he took a butcher knife and slashed about 100 of her paintings. “They were all butchered and put back neatly in their places,” Major said. “He cut my face out of multiple photographs.” 

When she returned to their home, he pointed out the destruction, then attacked her again. “He strangled me and finally I just saw black. I prayed, ‘God, please take care of my little girl,’” Major said. She passed out, and came to later with her husband still in the house. She called 911, and he finally ran off. 

In the hospital after the attack, Michelle found herself still worrying about her husband. She asked a police officer at the hospital what she could do to get him some help. “The man who beat you is the man that he is,” he replied. 

Major’s husband fled after the attack and was apprehended eight hours later, still threatening her. 

A kindly couple from church took in Michelle and her daughter, but Michelle still lived in fear. Her husband’s mother bailed him out of jail, and he continued to threaten her. 

“I was in a state of terror, then I started to paint,” Major said. 

Major poured her emotions into her art, attacking the canvas with angry images: a bleeding woman with haunted eyes, a woman with her mouth sewn shut, a woman surrounded with words: repulsive, worthless, and others too vile to print. 

The couple who took Michelle in saw the ghastly images and worried about her. Paint your hopes instead of your fears, the wife suggested. 

Michelle tried, and as the colors she splashed on the canvas gradually brightened, so did her outlook on life.  Michelle realized that while her husband had tried to silence her, he had not and could never take her voice. 

Now Major travels across the country, displaying her paintings and sharing her story of survival and hope. Major’s website,
www.beavoicearts.com, is a showcase for her art and her campaign to empower victims of domestic violence.

Major hopes her audiences develop a better understanding of what domestic violence victims go through.

“Our first reaction is to blame the victim. ‘Why didn’t she just leave?’ Victims are made to feel shame constantly,” she said.

Michelle Johnson Major is a 1986 graduate of Wilkes Central High School and taught art for several years at North Wilkes High School. She is remarried and lives with her husband and daughter in a nearby county.  

Major’s talk was part of the 20th annual Clothesline Project, a domestic violence awareness initiative presented by SAFE, Inc. and Wilkes Community College.  

SAFE, Inc. offers survivors of domestic and sexual violence options for safety, empowerment, healing and hope. SAFE is a United Way of Wilkes partner agency.

 

Step Up Fight Against Domestic Violence, Rep. Randleman Tells Vigil Crowd 

October 2010 
N.C. Rep. Shirley Randleman challenged the community to do more to identify and assist victims of domestic violence at a candlelight vigil for domestic violence victims Oct. 19th, 2010 in Wilkesboro.
 
"Domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States," Rep. Randleman said.  "We must pay
attention to the signs of domestic violence. That person you meet on the sidewalk may be a victim."
 
Rep. Randleman said the public should be alert to signs of domestic violence beyond obvious physical injuries. Perpetrators isolate, financially control and emotionally abuse their victims, she said.  Victims need family and friends to recognize the signs, reach out, and offer help.
 
Rep. Randleman said domestic violence protective orders can help victims stay safe, but many who could benefit from such orders aren't getting them.  Only a handful of the 99 women who died due to domestic violence in North Carolina in 2009 had restraining orders, she said.
 
"Some of the victims could have been protected if they had taken out protective orders," she said.
 
The problem of domestic violence starts early, and Rep. Randleman urged the community to take a strong stand to stop dating violence.  "We must talk to our children about the importance of having respectful dating relationships," she said.
 
Rep. Randleman lauded SAFE, the local non-profit agency that provides shelter, court advocacy, counseling and other services to victims of domestic violence.
 
"We are very blessed to have SAFE," Rep. Randleman said.  "They need our support financially and as volunteers."  
 
SAFE organized Tuesday's vigil as part of the local observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  A crowd of about 50 participants gathered at the Wilkes County Heritage Museum and marched to the labyrinth at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  As dusk fell, participants lit candles and read the names of the 91 persons in North Carolina who died due to domestic violence in the past year.  
 
SAFE executive director Kristian Thomas said the roster of victims included women, children and men from all corners of North Carolina. Victims included Greene County Deputy Jon Willis who was slain responding to a domestic violence call near Snow Hill last July.  The Rev. John Fraser, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Atonement, prayed for the safety of law enforcement officers during his benediction at the conclusion of the vigil.
 
None of the 91 fatalities occurred in Wilkes County, but domestic violence continues to be a serious problem here, Ms. Thomas said.  
 
Demand for SAFE's services continues to rise, with shelter usage up about five percent so far this year.  During 2009, SAFE provided 1,177 nights of safe shelter to about 100 local domestic violence victims, including 41 children.  SAFE's 24-hour crisis line fielded 369 domestic violence calls last year, and the agency worked with nearly 1,000 daytime clients.  
 
"SAFE provides free services to bring hope and healing to victims," Ms. Thomas said.  SAFE helps victims obtain protective orders, and supports victims during court appearances.  The agency offers a weekly support group for domestic violence survivors and individual therapy provided by a licensed professional counselor.  SAFE's economic empowerment program offers help with budgeting, re-education and job hunting. SAFE's website, www.safewilkes.org, offers a wealth of resources to victims, including safety tips, information on legal options and a complete listing of SAFE's services.
 
SAFE also promotes the prevention of domestic and sexual violence through advocacy, public awareness and education, and coordinated community response. The agency's "Safe Dates" program offers dating violence prevention programs in Wilkes County public schools.
 
SAFE is a United Way of Wilkes partner agency. SAFE's crisis line is available 24 hours a day at (336) 838-SAFE (838-7233).  
 

Vigil Speaker Kisa Posey Offers Advice, Encouragement to Victims 

October 2011
Assistant District Attorney Kisa Parker Posey had advice and encouragement for victims of domestic violence at SAFE’s Day of Unity vigil for domestic violence victims October 11th in Wilkesboro.

 

“Domestic violence is an upheaval for the entire family,” ADA Posey said. Abuse takes an emotional toll, leaving victims feeling unworthy and unloved, but there is hope.

 

“Don’t allow your past abuse to determine who you are going to be as a person. Only you can determine your future. You are strong for having survived this, and you deserve to be loved as God loves us,” ADA Posey said.

 

ADA Posey also advised victims to take advantage of domestic violence protection orders. The orders can’t prevent all abuse, but they can put an abuser on notice and temporarily settle custody, property and support issues. Victims should carry their protection order with them at all times, and provide copies to their family members, employers and their children’s schools.

 

On a wet, gloomy evening, a crowd of about 35 persons marched from the Wilkes Heritage Museum to the chapel of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where the 73 victims of domestic violence in North Carolina over the past 12 months were remembered in word, prayer and song.

 

One by one, members of the crowd filed to the front of the church to read the names and stories of the victims. The grim toll included three workplace deaths, and seven abusers who were killed by their victims.

 

April Isaac and Pandora Richardson sang a song of hope and praise. Bill Hurd did a dramatic reading of “Remember My Name” by Kimberly Collins.

 

SAFE director Kristi Thomas (right) leads marchers

through downtown Wilkeboro to the vigil site

 

More photos of the vigil are available at SAFE’s Facebook page. 

 

Stalking Is Serious, Sheriff Says, but There Are Ways to Stay Safe

January 2011 
January is National Stalking Awareness Month, a time to focus community attention on a crime that affects 3.4 million victims a year.
 
Stalkers commit a series of actions to control, track or frighten their victims. Stalking may take many forms, ranging from unwanted cards, calls, gifts or visits to more menacing behaviors such as threats, vandalism, burglary, animal abuse and assaults.  
“Stalking is a serious crime,” warns Wilkes County Sheriff Chris Shew, honorary chairman of the local Stalking Awareness Month campaign. “Stalking can escalate over time, sometimes with tragic results.” 
 
 
One out of five stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims, and stalking is a major risk factor for homicide of women in abusive relationships, the National Center for Victims of Crime reports.
 
Intimidating behaviors like stalking, peeping, communicating threats, cyber stalking and telephone harassment are all crimes in North Carolina, but many victims suffer in silence
 
“Over half of stalking victims don’t report it,” Sheriff Shew said. “Many of them don’t even know stalking is a crime. We want to make the community more aware of stalking, so we can protect victims and prevent tragedies.”
 
Some victims also mistakenly think ignoring a stalker will make the problem disappear. Experts say stalkers rarely back off on their own, and the harassment can become more severe if it’s ignored. As one victim put it, “All stalkers really want is your reaction, good or bad.”
 
About a quarter of all stalkers are strangers. Many of them stalk their victims attempting to establish a romantic or sexual relationship.
 
In other cases, stalking starts as a relationship ends. About a third of all stalkers are estranged intimate partners who are upset about a break up.
 
Most stalkers aren’t mentally ill, experts say, but they are obsessive, hypersensitive to rejection, and hung up on being the boss in a relationship.
 
About 75 percent of stalking cases are men stalking women, the National Center for Victims of Crime reports, but men do stalk men, women do stalk women, and women do stalk men.
 
SAFE offers victims help on how to deal with stalking situations. The agency has a trained victim advocate on staff, and SAFE’s crisis line, 838-SAFE, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
 
“No two stalking situations are alike,” SAFE executive director Kristian Thomas said. “If you are a victim of stalking, we can help you develop a safety plan right for you.”
 
Stalking is never the victim’s fault, but there are steps victims can take to stay safe:
 
  • If you’re being harassed by a stranger, clearly warn the stalker to stay away. Beyond this, don’t communicate in any way. Don’t worry about being polite. “Setting firm personal boundaries on someone’s erratic or obsessive behavior is not rude,” advises Emily Spence-Diehl, a professor of social work who’s studied stalking behavior.
  • Document all incidences of stalking, including telephone calls and e-mails. Log the date, time, place and particulars of the incident. Save written threats and anything else that could be considered evidence. Recording this information will help to document the behavior for legal purposes.
  • Contact the police. Stalking is a crime in all 50 states. In case of an emergency, call 911.
  • Another legal option is to obtain a restraining order. SAFE’s victim advocate can help you get a civil order to keep your stalker away from you.
  • Don’t go it alone. Trusted people, like friends, family, neighbors and co-workers, can help. They can screen your calls, get your mail, keep an eye on your house, and let police know if your stalker shows up 
One in four stalkers use technology, such as computers, GPS devices, or hidden cameras, to track their victims. Here are some tips on how you can stay safe from high-tech harassment:  
  • Change your phone number and e-mail address. Release your new contact information only to people you trust on a ‘need to know’ basis. You can always keep your old number and use it to collect evidence of your harassment.
  • If your stalker has had access to your computer, it may be infected with spyware or a keystroke logger that will allow your stalker to monitor your online activities and e-mail. Spyware can be transmitted through e-mail attachments and links. Be sure your computer’s security software is up to date. If you’re afraid that your computer isn’t safe, use a friend's computer or a computer in a public place like the public library.
  • Replace any cell phone your stalker has accessed. Cell phones with GPS capability can be used by stalkers to track victims.
  • Be wary of spoof e-mails and phone calls designed to elicit your contact information.
  • Report all abuse on Facebook or other websites to the site provider. Use strict privacy settings to control who can see your information.
  • Permanently or selectively block caller ID. *67 will block caller ID on a per call basis. Call your phone service provider to permanently block caller ID on your line. You can also choose to block anonymous calls and use caller ID to screen which calls you will accept.
  • Contact your phone service provider about a call trace or call trap if you are receiving repeated harassing phone calls or hang ups.  
More information about how to stay safe in a stalking situation is available on the SAFE, Inc. website at http://safewilkes.org/find-help. Free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day at SAFE’s crisis line, (336) 838-SAFE (7233).
 
SAFE, Inc. is a non-profit agency providing safety and comprehensive intervention services to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. SAFE also promotes the prevention of domestic and sexual violence through advocacy, public awareness and education, and coordinated community response. SAFE, Inc. is a United Way of Wilkes and Yadkin Valley United Fund partner agency. 
 

Elder Abuse is a Growing, but Preventable, Problem in Wilkes 

Mary was a prisoner in her own home.

Her once-beloved grandson was shaking her down for money. He wouldn’t let Mary leave the house, and threatened to hurt her if she told. Once, in a fit of rage, he threw Mary down the stairs.

Hurt and scared, Mary didn’t know what to do. When she finally got loose, she turned to SAFE and spent about three weeks at SAFE’s shelter for domestic violence victims before relocating with relatives.

At 77, Mary (not her real name) was old enough to be the grandmother of the other women in the shelter. Her abuser wasn’t a husband or a boyfriend, but his tactics of intimidation and control were remarkably similar.

Cases like Mary’s are becoming more common in Wilkes County. “Numbers are up,” says Dana Hines, adult protective services supervisor for the Wilkes County Department of Social Services. In fiscal year 2009-10, Wilkes DSS fielded 207 reports of abused adults, about double the number from ten years ago.

 

Many more cases of elder abuse likely went unreported. Experts estimate only one in five elder abuse cases ever comes to light. Fear, confusion, dependency and embarrassment prevent victims from coming forward. In some cases, victims are too sick to even know what is happening to them.

“Elder abuse is a hidden epidemic in Wilkes County,” warns Kristi Thomas, SAFE’s executive director.

Elder abuse is on the rise in part because of the increasing number of senior citizens. The number of seniors age 80 and above is projected to double in North Carolina over the next 20 years. Members of this “old old” age group are at highest risk of abuse.

Abuse takes a terrible toll on the elderly. Older adults who are abused are three times more likely to die within ten years than those who are not.

To show support for our community’s elderly, SAFE and the Wilkes Department of Social Services are launching a community education campaign in conjunction with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15th.

“Since many victims can’t report abuse on their own, it’s important for members of the community to recognize and report elder abuse,” Ms. Thomas said.

Abuse can take many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

Signs of physical abuse include slap marks, bruises, burns, blisters and pressure marks. Be suspicious of repeated injuries or injuries that don’t match the explanation of how they occurred.

Forms of emotional abuse include confinement, verbal abuse and threats. Victims may be fearful, self-blaming or agitated. Emotional abuse can be hard to detect. Victims may hint at emotional abuse indirectly.

Neglect, including self-neglect, is the most common form of elder abuse in Wilkes County. “Roughly 65 percent of screened-in referrals involve self-neglect, as senior citizens gradually lose their ability to manage their medications and nutrition, and yet they want to continue living independently in their own homes,” Hines said.

Despite a state law that requires adult children to support parents who can’t support themselves due to age or disability, many seniors suffer. Red flags of neglect include emaciation, pressure ulcers, untreated medical conditions and poor body hygiene.

The fastest growing form of elder abuse in Wilkes is financial exploitation.

“In most of the exploitation cases, family members are exploiting their elder family members who have some dementia. The asset exploitation cases are becoming more complex and require more time to properly discern what is happening,” Hines said.

Family members aren’t the only threat to seniors’ assets. Strangers develop phony relationships with victims, then dupe and defraud them. Signs include missing money and altered wills and trusts.

About one in five elder abuse cases in the U.S. involve financial exploitation. The problem costs victims nationwide over $2.6 billion each year.  

“There are many ways the community can get involved to prevent elder abuse,” Ms. Thomas says.
  • Don’t ignore the problem. Elder abuse is growing in Wilkes County and it can happen to anyone.
  • If you suspect abuse or neglect of any disabled adult in Wilkes County, call Wilkes DSS at 651-7400. All adults in North Carolina are required by law to make the call.
  • Keep an eye on your elderly neighbors to be sure they’re safe and sound. Isolated seniors are at higher risk of abuse.
  • Volunteer. Nursing homes and local programs that help vulnerable and older adults need you.
  • Educate yourself, your family and the community about elder abuse.
  • Know the characteristics of abuse perpetrators. About 90 percent of elder abuse perpetrators are family members, most commonly adult children of the victim. Many abuse perpetrators have dependency, substance abuse or mental health issues.
  • Help caregivers get the support they need. When the needs of an older person become overwhelming, even the strongest families need outside help. 

To find out more about elder abuse, view the short film “An Age for Justice: Confronting Elder Abuse in America,” available on the homepage of the SAFE website, www.safewilkes.org. In “An Age for Justice,” courageous American seniors tell moving stories about the abuse, neglect and exploitation they experienced.

To report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of any disabled adult in Wilkes County, call the Wilkes Department of Social Services at 651-7400. Wilkes DSS also has information on services to assist seniors and their caregivers.

To schedule a free elder abuse education program for your church or civic group, please call SAFE, Inc. at 838-9169. SAFE’s crisis line is open 24 hours a day at 838-SAFE (838-7233). SAFE is a United Way of Wilkes partner agency. 

Professionals Complete Course on How to Interview Abused Children

August 2013
Ten local professionals completed “Forensic Interviewing of Children” training Aug. 5-9, 2013 in North Wilkesboro. Pictured from left: Training participants Tim Murphy, Sonya Freeman, Jodi Province, Michelle Salley, Dee Fuentes, Angie Church, lead instructor Andra Chamberlin, training participants Nancy Graybeal, Cindy Coffey and Laurel Ashley and training host Keena Eller. (Not pictured: Jennifer Becker)

Ten local professionals recently completed a week-long course on how to interview child abuse victims. 

The National Child Advocacy Center’s “Forensic Interviewing of Children” training course was provided by SAFE, Inc. Aug. 5-9, 2013 at First United Methodist Church in North Wilkesboro. The training was funded by a grant from the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission. 

Forensic interviewers use child friendly, legally sound methods to gather factual information from children. Forensic interviews are often conducted in suspected cases of child sexual abuse or severe physical abuse. 

Participants learned how to establish rapport and elicit information impartially using NCAC’s Child Forensic Interview Structure, a research and practice-informed protocol. 

Training participants include Laurel Ashley of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services, Jennifer Becker, R.N. of Wilkes Regional Medical Center, Angie Church of the Wilkes County Schools, Cindy Coffey of the Wilkes Department of Social Services, Sonya Freeman of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services, Dee Fuentes of the Wilkes County Health Department, Det. Nancy Graybeal of the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office, Tim Murphy of SAFE, Inc., Jodi Province of Jodi Province Counseling Services, and Michelle Salley of Jodi Province Counseling Services. 

Participants will be eligible to perform forensic interviews at the new Wilkes County Child Advocacy Center. The center is currently providing counseling and victim advocacy services to victims. Forensic interviewing services will be added later this year. The center will be located adjacent to the SAFE offices on College Avenue in Wilkesboro. 

Andra Chamberlin, M.A., was the course’s lead instructor. Mrs. Chamberlin is a trainer and forensic interviewer with the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Ala. She has 23 years experience in child protection and 15 years experience conducting forensic interviews of children. Mrs. Chamberlin has testified as an expert witness and has presented forensic interview training at local, regional, state and national child abuse conferences. 

Attorney Justin Fitzsimmons taught the course’s legal topics section. Fitzsimmons is a research specialist with SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. For eleven years, Fitzsimmons served as an assistant state’s attorney in Kane and DuPage Counties, Ill., where he prosecuted cases involving sexual exploitation and digital evidence. Fitzsimmons has published articles, drafted legislation and presented trainings on child exploitation. 

For more information on the Wilkes County Child Advocacy Center, please call (336) 838-9169. For sexual abuse prevention information, visit the Parents Page at www.safewilkes.org.


New Therapy Brings Hope to Abused Children

April 2014

Five year old Janie has a smile that could melt your heart, but behind that smile lurks a world of hurt.

Janie (not her real name) was neglected by her drug addicted mother, and sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. By the time authorities intervened, Janie was acting out at school, wetting the bed and having frequent nightmares.

Janie is the type of child often referred to as “damaged goods”, a phrase that really bothers therapist Jodi Province. Province and her colleagues Amber Dillard, Michelle Salley and Erica Walker are currently nearing the end of a year-long training program in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT) to help children like Janie heal after abuse.

“These children not ‘damaged goods,’” Province says. “With TFCBT, we have the tools to help them heal.”

TFCBT is an intensive therapy with a strong track record. In North Carolina, 90% of children treated benefit from TFCBT. They sleep better, have fewer stress symptoms, and do better in school and at home.

Janie’s therapist says TFCBT worked for her. “Janie has made so much progress,” Michelle Salley reports. “It’s just amazing to see it work, see it click for her. She just talked, talked, talked, talked, talked about what she learned. This therapy can so empower kids. She knows the abuse was not her fault.”

Over the course of 12 to 16 sessions, therapists guide children and their non-offending caregivers through a variety of activities designed to help them face and master traumatizing events.

In therapy, children learn how to express feelings instead of acting them out. They also deal with cognitive distortions, the ‘stinking thinking’ that is common in abuse victims.

“I’ve had clients tell me, ‘I’m broken. No one will ever love me.’ By the end of the process, they see things differently,” therapist Erica Walker says.

Children also learn how to relax. “Children are often on high alert after trauma,” Province says. “Their senses are heightened and they are in defense mode.” Therapists teach children techniques they can use anywhere, anytime to help calm themselves.

TFCBT forces children to face their fears, a process many children and caregivers would rather skip.

“Children want to avoid talking about the trauma, but avoiding is not healing,” Salley says. She compares the process of talking about abuse to the process of cleaning out a deep wound. It hurts, but it’s necessary for healing to occur.

Not talking, especially in cases of sexual abuse, can be a bigger problem, therapists say. Keeping the subject taboo only magnifies the shame a child may already be feeling.

With TFCBT, children talk about their trauma gradually throughout the course of therapy. “It’s like wading into a cold pool a little bit at a time,” Province says. “The gradual exposure takes some of the sting out of it.”

After many weeks of preparation, children are eventually ready to discuss the abuse in detail. By this point, they know how to manage their stress and they’ve challenged some of the distorted thinking about themselves and their abuser.

“Telling the story in detail is like the reward at the end of a long race,” Walker says. “It’s the child’s opportunity to work through and reframe what happened.” Talking directly about the traumatic event helps reduce intrusive thoughts that can trigger physical symptoms.

TFCBT has many diverse components and they all work together, therapist Amber Dillard says. “Like a cake recipe, you have to have all the ingredients. By the end, the kids are in a much better place. Their symptoms decrease and they know so much more.”

Non-offending caregivers are included throughout the process.

“A big part of TFCBT is parent education,” Dillard notes. Parents learn specific techniques to handle problem behaviors, and they get support to address their concerns and help manage their own stress.

This strong emphasis on parental involvement is important, says Tim Murphy, victim advocate at the Child Advocacy Center of Wilkes County.

“The way a victim’s family responds to abuse can make all the difference in the child’s ability to recover. Non-offending parents and caregivers want to help, but they don’t always know how. Most of them jump at the chance to be involved in their child’s therapy,” Murphy said.

Over the past year, the Child Advocacy Center of Wilkes County has subsidized therapy for 33 child abuse victims. Thankfully, most of them did not require the most intensive treatment because their level of daily functioning did not require it.

Therapists at Jodi Province Counseling Services will finish their training in May 2014.

Therapist training is being provided by the North Carolina Child Treatment Program, a partnership between the Duke-UCLA National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, the Center for Child and Family Health and the School of Medicine the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Financial support for local therapist training is being provided by The Health Foundation, Inc.

Therapists at Jodi Province Counseling Services will soon complete a Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy learning collaborative provided by the N.C. Child Treatment Program. Pictured (from left): Amber Dillard, Erica Walker, Michelle Salley and Jodi Province.


New SAFE Spot Center Opens, Targets Child Abuse Cases

By Frances Hayes
Wilkes Journal-Patriot
November 14, 2014

SAFE Board Chairperson Erica Walker points out the paw prints in the entry way to the new SAFE Spot Child Advocacy Center in Wilkesboro. The paw prints were suggested by a child who was served by the center. She's joined by Assistant District Attorney Kisa Posey.


Child abuse cases will be solved and prosecuted more successfully with a new child advocacy center in Wilkes County, said Kisa Posey, assistant district attorney for the 23rd judicial district.

A grand opening for the new center, SAFE Spot, was held Thursday afternoon. It’s in a renovated 1,200-square-foot facility at 1260 College Ave., Wilkesboro, and is next to Sheltered Aid for Families in Emergency (SAFE), which sponsors the center.

SAFE Spot provides better coordination between the agencies involved in child abuse cases. It also means children do not have to go out of town for the interview process and only have to be interviewed once, said Mrs. Posey.

She said it could take as long as a year and a half to two years for child abuse cases to be prosecuted. Getting the information soon and having the story on a DVD helps in getting a conviction.

Opening

A crowd attended the 2 p.m. opening on Thursday including members of the Lowes Heroes who helped to renovate the space. SAFE Spot provides comprehensive, community-based services to children and families affected by sexual abuse or severe physical abuse.

The child friendly center has been created as a nonthreatening spot for children who have been abused, said Shellie Bowlin, coordinator for SAFE Spot.

“It a sad fact. Child sexual abuse is a big problem in Wilkes. But SAFE Spot will improve care for abused children and will aid in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against children,” said Mrs. Bowlin, during the grand opening.

She said a multidisciplinary team from the Wilkes Department of Social Services, law enforcement, mental health, Guardian ad Litem, district attorney and the public school system have been meeting for the past two years to collaborate cases.

“Communication has really opened up with the meetings and there is less duplication from the different agencies,” said Mrs. Bowlin.

A local therapist, Jodi Province, is also a member of the team. Mrs. Province and three other local therapists, Erica Walker, Amber Dillard and Michelle Salley, have completed a year-long training program in Trauma-Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

“The therapy is a proven approach to help kids heal after abuse,” said Mrs. Bowlin.

Mrs. Walker, acting director for SAFE, stressed that therapy cleans out the wound for children so healing can begin.

“It used to be people thought an abused child was broken, but that is not true now,” said Mrs. Walker. 

“It takes a team to put a dent in this problem and it took a team to build this beautiful center. This wonderful place is a visible example of what can happen when people work together,” said Mrs. Bowlin.

The center has been the site of several child abuse interviews for the past month. Those interviews are done by one of four trained people in a comfortable, nonthreatening space.

A one-way zoom camera allows for people involved in the case, such as law enforcement, to watch the interview while the interview is in a nearby conference room.

The camera is placed near the ceiling and is covered by a small wooden replica of a doghouse to make it less threatening to a child.

The animal theme is seen throughout the center with dog paws near the entrance. The exam room is filled with hand designed and painted animals on the wall and ceiling to distract children while they are being examined.

The exam room will be used once a supervisor is hired, said SAFE officials. They expect that to occur by early 2015.

Donors

Mrs. Bowlin thanked the following contributors for their assistance with SAFE Spot.

They include The Health Foundation, Lowes Charitable and Educational Foundation, The Cannon Foundation and N.C. Communication Foundation.

Wilkes Community College (WCC) students provided extensive work on the center. They include building construction students under Dwight Hartzog who built the center; Michael Wingler, WCC associate vice president of information technology and students in that area who designed the video recording system; Erin Guffey, WCC student who created the Spot logo and Matthew Jordan, WCC graduate who assisted with the development of the building plans.

In-kind donations were made by Key City Furniture, McLean Floor Coverings, Office Furniture Concepts.

Dwaine Swink and Cubic Design Group designed the space and helped supervise construction. Lowe's Heroes Team, under Curtis Parker and Josh Brown who provided 60 volunteers working 500 hours.

Recognition level donors are Julius C. Hubbard Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Tim Murphy, Judge and Mrs. Julius Rousseau Jr.

“We appreciate all the caring folks from across the community who contributed to the center’s fundraising drive. You have all played an invaluable role in bringing a brighter day to abused children in Wilkes and we appreciate you all,” said Mrs. Bowlin.

For more information call 838-9169.

Employees from Lowe's adopted SAFE Spot for a Heroes Project. They added many child friendly touches to the new center.

Lowe’s employees give new child advocacy center a child friendly makeover

Fall 2014
Abused children in Wilkes County have a cheery, child friendly place to get help, thanks to the efforts of Lowe’s employees.

About 40 employees at Lowe’s Customer Support Center in Wilkesboro recently donated their time and talent to add child friendly touches to the new SAFE Spot Child Advocacy Center.

The workers participated as part of a Lowe’s Heroes team. The Lowe’s Heroes program is a company-wide initiative that offers employees opportunities to work on renovation projects in local schools and non-profits.

Team co-captains Josh Brown and Curtis Parker said they reviewed several project possibilities, but in the end, their sympathy for the plight of abused children led them to select the child advocacy center.

"While our Lowe’s Heroes team set out to serve and make a difference in the community by helping others, it did not take us long to realize that the real heroes are at SAFE Spot. It was an honor and a true privilege to serve in this capacity and, above all, a very humbling experience that left us feeling truly blessed,” Parker said.

All told, 39 employees devoted 523 hours of volunteer time to the project. Lowe’s donated $2,780 in materials at store cost. Team members collected an additional $322 to provide stuffed animals and journals to children seen at the center.

SAFE Spot officials say they appreciate the effort and creative flair that went into creating the facility’s new look.

“We’re so grateful to the Lowe’s Heroes,” said Shellie Bowlin, the child advocacy center’s coordinator. “They gave our center a warm, child friendly atmosphere that everyone comments on.”

“Our volunteers transformed a bland, cold office space into something amazing,” Parker said. “The interior décor was specifically designed to let children know this is truly a safe spot for them.”

Workers painted accent walls, installed whimsical wall graphics, brought in furnishings and added Spot, the center’s canine mascot, to two walls.

A small team led by Reene Parker transformed SAFE Spot’s medical room into an undersea world with whales, dolphins, colorful tropical fish, an octopus and Spot, sporting a snorkel, all painted freehand.

“What the team took on in the medical room was huge,” Mrs. Bowlin said. “Medical procedures can be scary to children. They will be more relaxed in this comforting environment.”

In the center’s interview room, team leader Curtis Parker designed and built a small replica doghouse for Spot, with help from Carolina Heritage Cabinetry of North Wilkesboro.

The team also renovated the adjacent SAFE offices, improving privacy and adding a client consultation room.

“The team worked hard and they were very caring people,” SAFE Spot victim advocate Carla Holmes said. “They were just as excited about it as we were.”
Heroes team participants include: Addrena Clemens, Alexandra Capecci, Brenda Parker, Cole Susi, Eva Adams-Myers, Grey Triplett, Heather Whitley, Holly Richardson, Honey Susi, Jacklyn Richardson, Jason Spradlin, Joseph Gryder, Kamela Hemric, Kathi Johnson, Kathy Houck, Kelly Lyon, Kimby Page, Kristee Huffman, Laquanta Baxter, Megan Hutchins, Michael Wagoner, Michelle Miller, Mike Winesette, Natalia Ceballos, Patricia Duncan, Phillip Smith, Reene Parker, Rick Neudorff, Ryan Falise, Shannon Massengill, Sherry Dancy, Stefan Susi, Tamera Miller, Teresa Ray, Terri Waddell, Wanda Parker and Wendy Sherwood and Co-Captains Curtis Parker and Josh Brown.

SAFE Spot Child Advocacy Center is located in a 1,200 square foot facility adjacent to the SAFE, Inc. offices off School Street in Wilkesboro. SAFE Spot will provide comprehensive community-based services to children and families affected by child sexual abuse or severe physical abuse.

Some victim services, including forensic interviews, mental health therapy, victim advocacy and case coordination, are already being provided by the center and its partners. Medical services will be added soon.

The center’s multidisciplinary team has been meeting monthly since January 2013 to coordinate investigations and improve community response to victims. The team includes law enforcement officers, child protective services personnel, prosecutors, advocates and care providers.

SAFE Spot is a service of SAFE, Inc., a United Way of Wilkes partner agency.
These creative ladies transformed the SAFE Spot medical room into a captivating undersea world. From left: Alexandra Capecci, Tricia Duncan, Wanda Parker, Heather Whitley and crew leader Reene Parker.
Alexandra Capecci and her octopus lend cheer to the center's medical room.

Project co-captain Curtis Parker (right) and Phillip Smith install privacy walls in the SAFE offices. Parker devoted more than 100 hours of his time to this project.


 

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