Domestic Violence Awareness Month, commemorated throughout the month of October, shines a spotlight on the ongoing presence of domestic violence and the resources available to victims.
This year to bring awareness to domestic violence, Pamela C. Paulmann, project coordinator for the Violence Against Women Campus Grant, has been spreading awareness to the University community.
One of the ways she plans to spread this awareness is through the newly launched Stags Wear Purple initiative which was part of the larger, national purple Thursday movement to raise awareness about Dating/Domestic Violences.
Paulmann shares that t-shirts were provided to students, faculty, and staff as a visual representation of our University’s “commitment” to ending violence and emphasizing that “everyone deserves a healthy relationship.”
These purple T-shirts were worn this past week by Fairfield’s Fitness and Recreation Center (RecPlex) employees, StagBus drivers and students working for a variety of campus departments.
In addition, baskets of purple ribbons are displayed at the front desk of the RecPlex for Fairfield members to take and wear as a sign of support for domestic violence victims. A sign shown behind the basket suggests the ribbon be placed on a water bottle or bag, but any location will do.
Aside from these projects, the Center for Family Justice and Fairfield University Counseling and Psychological Services work to increase awareness of domestic violence by students, faculty and staff, as well as among local communities.
Debra Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of CFJ, defines domestic violence as “a pattern of coercive control.”
She continues saying, “It is less about physical abuse, although that’s often part of it, and more about someone abusively attempting to control someone’s physical and emotional life.”
Greenwood acknowledges that in some cases it involves repeated physical harm brought upon by an “intimate partner or family member.”
She adds, however, that oftentimes it takes the form of emotional abuse, which is more likely to go unnoticed, but equally devastating to victims. Such emotional abuse can be executed through means of stalking or excessive control over one’s finances.
CFJ’s Safe House is not located in their main headquarters on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport, Conn. as the exact location of the shelter is kept private for the safety of the victims residing there.
This safe house currently serves as a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Although more than 80 percent of their clients are women and children, Greenwood says that all gender non-binary, male and disabled victims, as well as those who identify as LBGTQ+ are welcomed and have also been supported through their services.
“Our clients are really quite diverse and a reflection of the fact that abuse can and does happen to everyone,” says Greenwood.
According to Greenwood, CFJ’s Safe House provides safety, security and support to victims with the mission of providing clients with “lives free of trauma and abuse.” She acknowledges that none of this could be done without the help of the crisis housing team, who keep the safe house fully operational 24/7.
Some of the services offered include support groups where victims can discuss their trauma with others, legal services to clients in need of restraining orders, divorces and legal help, as well as self-sufficiency services to support clients in the beginning stages of taking on a new chapter of their life, free of their abuser.
Greenwood goes on to discuss the importance and relevance of raising awareness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic especially, as the number of victims has grown exponentially throughout the past year.
She is not surprised by this, saying that “during the pandemic so many people were forced to shelter in place with their abusers for extended periods of time. As a result, the floodgates opened in terms of demand for shelter.”
Just last year alone at CFJ’s Safe House, there was an 18 percent increase in domestic violence cases, 692 domestic hotline calls received, 4,385 clients served, a 25 percent increase in overall demand for services and 263 clients provided with legal services. In addition, more than 50 children were sent to the Elizabeth M. Pfriem Camp Hope America-Bridgeport, which is their summer camp and mentoring program for child victims impacted.
Rather than turn victims away when at full capacity, she says that “overflow shelter in hotels” are provided.
As a result of the stark increase in domestic violence victims seeking their services, a 1,400 percent increase has been seen throughout the past year for such hotel shelters.
Greenwood is excited to share that the response to this increase is a new safe house. The new safe house will be called “The Empower House” and is planned to be built and opened sometime in 2022, with $2.1 million dollars already raised out of their $3.0 million dollar goal.
“This expanded safe house has been conceived as a state-of-the-art safe house which will provide our clients with the many supportive services they need,” says Greenwood.
The new safe house will include play spaces for the children inside and outside the building, as well as a safe kennel for client’s pets.
Generally domestic violence is associated with families and marriage, however this form of abuse also takes place on college campuses, further signifying the importance of awareness by students, faculty and staff of higher education.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will fall victim to domestic violence over the course of their life.
Greenwood says that domestic violence is seen in younger couples frequently and it is further shown through research that patterns set early on in such abusive relationships often serve as detrimental to the victim in their future romantic endeavors.
“If your early romances are marked by a pattern of abuse, it can normalize the experience,” she says. “Someone can start to think, ‘This is what love looks like,’ when the reality is that love should never, ever hurt.”
Resources for domestic violence victims are continually being offered to college campuses for students, faculty and staff. CFJ’s Campus Advocacy Team alone provides services to students at Fairfield University, as well as those at Sacred Heart University, the University of Bridgeport and at Housatonic Community College.
Salaha Kabir and Geanella Suarez are the two campus advocates provided by CFJ for Fairfield students, located in the Health and Wellness Center in Jogues Hall.
Students can come to seek support with or without appointments on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m, according to Beth Fitzpatrick, Community Relations Coordinator for CFJ.
If these hours do not work for students, students can contact the advocates through their emails: SKabir@CenterforFamilyJustice.org or GSuarez@CenterforFamilyJustice.org. Students can also call the CFJ main line at (203) 334-6154 and ask the receptionist to connect them with a campus advocate.
Kabir encourages Fairfield University clubs, organizations, departments and student leaders to reach out to either her or Suarez “for collaborations to create awareness and education through programs and events.”
“The more we can get engaged with students to create relationships and trust, then students will recognize us as a safe space,” Kabir says.