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Wichita shelters call attention to domestic violence

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at 8:37 p.m.

Susan wanted out. She had two children and an abusive man at home.

A few times, she had called the YWCA Women’s Crisis Center hotline to devise an escape plan. The day she would leave, her abuser got angry. So she called her advocate and pleaded with her to stay on the line.

After the attack she sought help at the shelter.

“She immediately grabbed her two kids and what few things they could carry and left on foot,” said YWCA executive director Angela Lampe, who shared Susan’s story.

“Now she knows strategies that are available and resources that are available.”

October is domestic violence awareness month, and Wichita-based shelters, as well as local officials, are encouraging people to watch for signs that domestic violence is affecting their friends, families and peers.

“Domestic violence isn’t just something that simply happens elsewhere,” Lampe said. “… It’s in all communities. And it happens in Sedgwick County every day.”

According to national statistics, intimate partner abuse leads to about 4.8 million physical assaults and rapes annually. Last year, the Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office combined took more than 6,600 domestic violence-related reports and calls.

Experts say a third of women and one in seven men will fall victim at some point in their lives.

“There’s no cookie-cutter look for a typical domestic violence victim,” said Wendy Glick, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, which runs a Wichita shelter called Harbor House.

“They come from all races, all age categories, all socio-economic levels from the community.

“It’s completely across the board.”

‘Trending downward’

According to the Kansas Department of Corrections, about one-third of the state’s nearly 9,000 prisoners have convictions for domestic violence.

As of Sept. 30, Wichita police had received 4,084 domestic violence reports this year, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said in a news conference earlier this month.

Over the same period in 2012, there were 4,905 reports; in 2011, there were 5,379.

Local domestic violence-related homicides were also down, Bennett said. Only one has been reported so far this year. There were seven in 2012.

“Comparatively speaking, we’re trending downward,” he said, “… so that’s a good sign.

“But the fact that we are talking about 4,000 cases since the first nine months of the year being a success is still pretty sad.”

He added: “The hardest thing a victim of domestic violence has to do, in my experience, is make the first call and know that they can get away.”

Shelters are full

At Catholic Charities Harbor House, staff and volunteers work daily to meet the needs of domestic violence victims and their families. The organization is one of two emergency shelters operating in Wichita.

The other is run by the YWCA.

Last year Harbor House sheltered 383 people, including three men and 201 children, Glick, of Catholic Charities, said. About 1,200 more received help by calling their domestic violence hotline or through other services.

The YWCA Women’s Crisis Center served around 1,200 victims and provided about 2,000 hours of counseling and outreach.

“We had 6,341 bed nights,” Lampe said. That’s “women and kids that are staying in shelters providing that safe environment overnight.”

Despite the apparent downward trend in domestic violence reports made to law enforcement, officials say both shelters are full and turning cases away.

“We have to turn away about 50 women a month because we don’t have the space,” Glick said of Harbor House.

At YWCA, it’s at least 30 each month.

“Unfortunately, we’re operating at capacity of 95 to 97 percent of what we can hold in house,” Lampe said.

“So as we may see some trends go down in terms of calls to law enforcement, we know that it’s still a significant problem in our community and that folks are in need of help.”

The early warning signs of domestic violence include feeling afraid of your partner, avoiding discussion of certain topics out of fear your partner will become angry, and being criticized or blamed for abusive behavior. A partner humiliating or yelling at you, treating you as property or a sex object and controlling your money or access to a car or phone are also considered warning signs.

Those who think they are caught in a violent situation at home or with an intimate partner are encouraged to seek help. For immediate safety needs, contact Harbor House at 866-899-5522, the YWCA at 316-267-SAFE or another domestic violence help hotline.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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