Syracuse, NY –
Calls to local domestic and sexual violence hotlines continue to rise, along with the number of adult domestic violence victims using safe shelters.
That's according to Vera House's annual report to the community on domestic and sexual violence.
Program services coordinator Colleen O'Brien says the numbers show that domestic violence is a persistent problem. Yet, she says, each year the numbers are shocking to her.
"We still live in a community, in a world where the police answered over 10,000 calls in 2009 for domestic violence and that we shelter over 500 people each year who are fleeing homes where they are not safe," says O'Brien. "That includes men, that includes women and that includes kids."
The report projected the number of police calls for domestic violence to exceed 11,000 in Onondaga County by the end of this year.
"People can ask why is that, and there can be a variety of different answers, but what we know that's consistent from year to year is that we are getting that amount of calls," she says. "So the issue is definitely not going away. It's absolutely not going away."
O'Brien says calls to the hotline always spike right after the report is released, showing that there is also still a need to raise awareness,
"It's good to take a point in time and remember why we do the work and why we continue to try to raise awareness and help people feel less isolated and able to reach out and get help," she says.
The report also highlighted goals and accomplishments. O'Brien said advocates worked for the passage of new legislation that helps people to vote if they are away from their home due to domestic violence.
The law passed this year allows voters to cast paper ballots at the board of elections instead of their assigned polling place if they left their home as the result of domestic violence or threat of violence. They can also apply to have their voter registration records kept confidential.
"It was really helpful to have this voter protection passed," says O'Brien. "That I might not be in my county, I might not be in my general area where I voted before and that a shelter staff member might be able to help me, or my advocate might be able to help me cast my vote. And that's really important.
O'Brien says on the positive side, domestic violence and sexual assault hotlines and shelters are available in every county in New York State.
"No matter where someone lives, there is a program where there is a 24-hour hotline and there is always somebody on the end of the line that will take your call, and you don't have to disclose who you are, and you can just talk to somebody who gets it and understands and is willing to be supportive and helpful even if you're not ready to do anything but have a phone conversation about what's going on," O'Brien says.
Among the agency's goals is to do more outreach and education to college campuses and school districts to address sexual assault prevention and response. It also plans to do more outreach on domestic abuse in the gay and lesbian community.