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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; new program is a hope for prevention
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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; new program is a hope for prevention

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and SAFE in the Bitterroot has activities to heighten awareness about domestic violence and has a new program to reduce violence.

White Ribbon Week in Ravalli County is Oct. 18 to 24.

The White Ribbon Campaign is a community-wide effort to raise awareness about domestic violence. It is sponsored by the Ravalli County Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to spread the message that everyone deserves to live free from violence.

Volunteers in the community are pinning 10,000 white ribbons to information cards for distribution this 21st year.

The first year SAFE distributed 750 cards and ribbons. For each of the past three years, they have handed out 10,000 white ribbons to businesses, schools, care centers, churches and anyone interested in having them. There are stickers of white ribbons for students in middle school and grade school.

There is also a poster campaign featuring residents who tell why they support White Ribbon Week. This year the posters feature the Bitterroot Mountettes, Tryco and the SAFE staff on a zoom screen. There are table tent displays and usually, volunteers place signs on business doorknobs, but not this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There are virtual challenges posed by SAFE, see their website at http://www.safeinthebitterroot.org.

For over 30 years, Supporters of Abuse Free Environments (SAFE in the Bitterroot) has been providing emergency shelter, housing, services, and community programs for those experiencing domestic, sexual, dating and other forms of violence. Each year they have answered 400 crisis calls, provided 2,000 nights of shelter and 8,000 nights of transitional housing and helped 70 individuals get access to justice.

Jamie Ogden and Karissa Carmona work in the SAFE Community Programs office. They facilitate the Ravalli County Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, a coalition of individuals and organizations that have a vested interest in ending domestic and sexual violence.

Carmona said that in working with community members she has been surprised about how many people have had domestic violence in their family or know someone who has.

Across the nation the numbers are still out during the pandemic but an increase is expected.

“What’s happening in other places is similar to what’s happening to SAFE in that our numbers dropped across Montana during the shutdown period of the pandemic,” Ogden said. “Our guess was that it wasn’t safe to call.”

Each year SAFE serves about the same number of people. Reporting has increased over the summer with more housing-related calls.

“We encourage people to call — employers, teachers, grandparents, anyone not sure what to do,” Ogden said. “We talk you through the situation. When someone or someone they know is experiencing domestic or sexual violence they often don’t know what to do.”

Call the SAFE 24-hour crisis hotline at 406-363-4600.

“We’re doing a great job for people experiencing domestic or sexual violence, but as a community, we’re not doing much of anything to reduce the amount,” Ogden said. “That became our focus as a coalition.”

To reduce the numbers, the coalition is launching the PIVOT (Providing Information for Violent Offender Transformation) program. It is a hope to change lives. A judge can sentence misdemeanor offenders to attend informational sessions taught by SAFE staff and the coalition team (including Chaos to Clarity, Sapphire Community Health, videos and helpful materials.) It is two hours of free information with a trauma-informed approach.

“We cover that if this is happening in your family you probably had some of these experiences in your life that have helped facilitate this pattern,” Ogden said. “Guess what? You now live in a community where a lot of people would like to help you figure that out. It is to encourage help-seeking, earlier.”

The PIVOT meetings happen quarterly (October, January, April and July) for people referred by the court.

“It’s a new, evolving thing but it is a foot-in-the-door,” Ogden said. “We’re working to see if we can reduce the perpetration of violence.”

The housing crisis and the lack of affordable rentals in Ravalli County has a huge impact on domestic violence survivors. Ogden said Western Montana hasn’t built any affordable housing, the market is too strong for incentives for people to build affordable housing, and because there is such a high demand people are moving rentals off the market and selling them or changing them into short-term vacation rentals.

“We had a production come in, bless them, but that was a lot of housing,” Ogden said. “All people regardless of income are challenged by housing in Ravalli County. Low-income people are really challenged by the lack of affordable housing.”

For survivors, there is a limited amount of temporary housing and emergency shelter available and then moving on and setting up a household is even more challenging. Survivors have difficulty finding housing (more so if they have children or pets), passing a credit check, affording applications, and paying deposits and high rent.

Ogden said the Ravalli County Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is more than 20 years old and has accomplished its original main goals.

“We are so fortunate to have great coordination among agencies — law enforcement, advocacy services, social service providers, schools, churches and emergency shelter providers,” she said. “White Ribbon Week is the time when I ponder how wonderful it is. People are really knowledgeable in our community. The Healthy Relationships program in schools provides earlier conversations to younger members of the community.”

This year SAFE is hosting a virtual reading with best-selling author Lundy Bancroft at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28. Bancroft has over 25 years of experience in defender/intervention, abuse, trauma and recovery. Four of his books, "Why Does He Do That?", "When Dad Hurts Mom", "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and "The Joyous Recovery", are available at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton. His book, "The Batterer as Parent", can be ordered.

Ogden said Lundy started the movement of helping those who suffer abuse and domestic violence.

“He’s very vibrant and doesn’t hold back,” Ogden said. “He speaks very directly to survivors and in the last couple of years has been exploring the parenting aspects of intimate domestic violence. His latest book is more about healing.”

Thanks to Carmona, SAFE is on various avenues of social media including Instagram where she has community challenges each week and prizes for participants. SAFE is creating an "Envision Safe Futures" collage/vision board about creating a safe future for Ravalli County and is accepting art, poetry, photography and magazine clippings.

To save your spot for the Lundy Bancroft online reading or to submit items for the collage email kcarmona@safeinthebitterroot.org. There is also a drop off box for submissions outside SAFE at 150 Morningstar Lane in Hamilton.

White Ribbon Week is a reminder for the community to work towards ending violence.

“Wearing a ribbon is a simple way to send the powerful message that we all deserve to live in homes that are safe and free from violence,” Ogden said.

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