DVSAS Comes to WCC

This quarter, Whatcom Community College has partnered with Whatcom County’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS) to provide more resources on campus for survivors and people in need.

DVSAS Office in Downtown Bellingham
The DVSAS office is
located on Commercial Street in downtown Bellingham. Photo
courtesy of DVSAS, edited by
Mattie Sickafoose

The overall mission of DVSAS is to support the victims of domestic violence (DV) and sexual violence (SV) and help the community towards ending such abuses. DVSAS states the values of the organization are to aid equity, justice and anti-oppression practices.

Lauren Bowie, the Rural Advocate Coordinator for DVSAS, accepted a grant-funded position that allows her to be available to help domestic violence and sexual assault survivors over the phone and in person all over Whatcom County.

Survivors can ask for support for past trauma, current situations or just to confide in the advocates about what has happened. However, Bowie will only provide support if it is sought out or asked for via referral.

“Everyone needs a resource like this. The more people who know that this resource exists and normalizes accessing it connects people to resources that can be helpful but it also destigmatizes it,” says Bowie.

Relationships with Domestic Violence

Understanding that abusive behavior is a pattern is the first step to helping someone in an abusive relationship and it is not always just physical abuse. Some additional behaviors are forcing isolation, inflicting emotional abuse, and controlling finances.

According to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), people who abuse believe they have the right to control their partner and even justify their behavior by blaming the victim in the relationship. Some abusers make it seem as if they are the victim to prevent the actual victim from getting the support and services required, even cutting off the victim’s ability to gain support from local authorities and services by questioning the victim’s abilities.

One domestic abuse survivor told us, “He has never owned up to what he did, not once. He will say that I need to move on from the past, that the past is the past. I have told him that he hurt me and physically hurt me in front of our child. I’ve told him the impact on our child. And it’s like talking to a brick wall.”

In order to help someone who may be in an abusive relationship it is important to not be afraid to ask questions, especially if the signs of an abusive relationship are beginning to show. One might keep a connection with a victim in order to allow them to access help if needed, which is a challenging task if the abuser has isolated their victim.

Another survivor reported that they “wanted to have autonomy in how I wanted other people to respond, in how they related to them. It helped me when people asked me how I wanted them to move forward.” 

Prevalence of Domestic Violence

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) has 1,665 local domestic violence programs that work to create an environment where domestic violence no longer exists. The NNEDV was founded over 30 years ago and represents 56 states and territories.

According to the 15th Annual Domestic Violence Count Reports, in 2020 Whatcom County reported 1,206 victims, including adults and children, who found refuge in emergency shelters and housing. Just in one day, in the nation, the NNEDV served over 76,525 victims (about the seating capacity of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum) on Sept. 10, 2020.

Additionally in Whatcom County, 1,100 victims received nonresidential services which includes legal advocacy, children support groups and counseling. 75% of victims were provided emergency shelter and 52% were provided child support and advocacy.

On the other hand, NNEDV reported 603 victim requests which were not met because the program lacked the funding and resources to provide them.

The report states that “On September 10, 2020, local programs were unable to meet 11,047 requests for services—primarily requests for housing or emergency shelter—because programs lacked sufficient resources. These numbers are alarming on their own, but the true scope of the problem is worse; many survivors had limited access to help because of the pandemic or have no services in their communities.”

According to the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence (BWCCADV), within Whatcom County, a total of 146 reports for sexual violence were filed, along with 3,185 domestic violence calls for service. However, from what we know, 65% to 74% of sexual violence cases are not reported to law enforcement. So, what is Whatcom County doing about it?

Partners in Ending Domestic Violence

BWCCADV was founded in 1998 to help the community’s efforts to combat domestic violence. BWCCADV develops and implements a comprehensive domestic violence plan to increase the collaboration of services to aid victims that have been impacted by domestic violence.

The BWCCADV focuses on fostering justice, autonomy and well-being for survivors and the community in Whatcom County as well as transforming systems to ensure the well-being of victims of domestic and sexual violence.

In 2023-2024, several key work plan activities are set to take place. The BWCCADV is focusing on developing a pilot program that explores restorative and transformative justice responses to domestic and sexual violence. This initiative aims to provide alternative approaches to traditional punitive measures, emphasizing healing and rehabilitation for survivors and offenders alike.

Additionally, efforts will be made to coordinate cross-training with various system partners, with a particular focus on survivor defendants, in order to enhance collaboration and support for individuals involved in the justice system. Collaborations with schools and community organizations are also planned to bolster interventions and prevention strategies for students, ensuring their safety and well-being.

Also, this year, there will be a strong emphasis on stabilizing funding and administrative structures for the operations of the Domestic Violence Commission, ensuring its long-term sustainability and effectiveness in addressing domestic violence issues.

The BWCCADV helps provide training within different agencies, jobs, and resources like DVSAS to achieve change in systemic interventions and prevention of sexual and domestic violence.

Regardless of the status of the current WCC outreach position and other local services, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 is a great access to an advocate you can talk to anytime even if you are not in a current crisis. The hotline is open 24/7. If, on the other hand, you are in a current crisis, 911 is the number to call, and is also open 24/7.

Written by Mattie Sickafoose and Seraphina Wiesen

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