No one wants to believe that someone they love is capable of hurting them – physically or emotionally, but domestic violence affects more than 12 million people each year. While Martha’s Vineyard has a distinct romanticism about it – the sunsets, pristine beaches and Island magic that seems to draw us all in, our community is not immune to violence.
Domestic violence occurs in all communities across all populations, classes and races. 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner.
October is national Domestic Violence Awareness month and this month we connected with our CONNECT to End Violence Director, Jennifer Neary, to shine a light on Domestic Violence and learn more about CONNECT’s role in our community.
We believe everyone deserves a life free of violence.
CONNECT to End Violence provides free and confidential services to individuals who have experienced or witnessed domestic or sexual violence as well as loved ones, friends, acquaintances or coworkers who may also be impacted.
Q: Can you explain the process of what happens when someone calls the CONNECT crisis hotline?
A: When the hotline rings, the phone is answered by a locally trained domestic violence and rape crisis counselor. The first step is making sure whoever calls is in a safe place to talk and then we address the immediate needs.
Every call is different – someone could be calling after a flashback of something that happened 30 years ago or to process something that may have happened recently; others might want to find out about what it might look like to report something to the police or how to apply for a restraining order. Regardless of why someone calls, we’re here to support them in the moment, de-escalate a situation and make sure there is a next step in place.
Q: What might a follow-up plan look like?
A: It is different for everyone, but we want to make sure that each person has their own safety plan in place. One of the nice things about having a local hotline is that people are able to meet face-to-face with whomever they spoke with on the phone without having to repeat their story. One person’s follow-up plan might be setting up an appointment for the next day or week; while someone else’s might be having a CONNECT team member meet them at the police station or hospital. An individual may also simply have the plan in place to call the hotline the next time they are in crisis.
Q: Can you talk a bit about CONNECT’s empowerment model?
We’re here to meet people where they are on their journey without defining what their relationship looks like. We believe survivors are experts in their own story and we offer support, validate feelings, discuss options based on different scenarios and set people up for success.
We work hard to create a safe space so individuals feel like they can come back at any time without feeling shame or judgement. We sometimes hear “I can’t believe this happened again,” and when we hear comments such as those, we are just so glad that people do come back and that we can offer a safe, non-judgmental space. There are many obstacles to leaving an abusive relationship and, should someone do so then return to the relationship when the abuse happens again, we understand and we are here to support them.
Q: The CONNECT program has a strong presence in Island Schools, how has the Healthy Relationships program grown and where do you see it going?
I started at CONNECT in 2011 and we were in a few schools in both 7th and 8th grade. Today we are in all Island schools from 6th-12th grade and we’re also piloting a program for 5th graders.
Each year grades have one to two different sessions and year after year the curriculum builds on itself. In the earlier grades we start with empathy and respect – discuss ways that students can stand up for themselves and others and how to recognize when someone is being disrespected.
By 8th and 9th grade we get into gender roles, the impact of negative stereotypes, name-calling, harassment and what it means to be an active bystander. After that, the high school curriculum explores consent, discusses the legal and ethical issues surrounding the topic along with the impact and prevalence of sexual assault. We share resources available both locally and nationally and provide students with tools they can use to support a friend who might be experiencing dating violence, or who has been assaulted.
We really value our partnerships with the schools and strive to make our sessions a safe space for students to talk about these issues. With our Healthy Relationships curriculum and within the sessions – we emphasize that there is no wrong answer and we’re here to help students explore these issues and have open conversations.
Q: How is the curriculum developed– is it the same each year?
The Healthy Relationships curriculum is based off of evidence and research-based models. In addition to collaborating with health teachers and guidance counselors, we use SAFE Dates, SAFE-T and Mentors and Violence Prevention to create the curriculum for each grade. Each classroom discussion includes the importance of being an active bystander and is facilitated in partnership with our trained collaborating partners from the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, Tisbury Police Department, Edgartown Police Department, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah Tribal Rangers.
Each year the curriculum is tweaked based on what is happening in the community and trends that teachers see. Even though we do one to two sessions with each grade, the curriculum is flexible. If schools witness unhealthy relationships – victim-blaming, sexting, or bullying we’ll be invited back to facilitate separate conversations.
Q: What are some of the things CONNECT is doing this month to raise awareness?
To kick-off Domestic Violence Awareness month, we hosted a tree-lighting at the MV Community Services main campus as part of the Shine a Light campaign. This campaign honors those who have lost their lives to Domestic Violence and gives hope to survivors of domestic violence.
Last weekend we were at LADYFEST to offer resources and educate the community on the services offered at CONNECT. This was the third annual LADYFEST – a night of female fueled music on Circuit Ave hosted by The Ritz and it has been amazing to see the community come together for such a great event while watching it grow each year.
At the high school, our student leadership group, Uproot, hosted a tabling event during lunch to discuss what love means to students and on 10/24 they will have a table for Purple Thursday. Purple Thursday is a national campaign that encourages people to wear purple to raise awareness around domestic violence and express their solidarity with victims and survivors of domestic violence. In addition to awareness events, we partnered with the town libraries to host Domestic Violence Awareness displays featuring information and literature on the topics