Editor’s Note: This is the third story in a three-part series examining domestic abuse in Raleigh and Wake County. Five of Raleigh’s 16 homicides this year were related to domestic abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women has been a victim of severe physical violence by a partner. It is likely that every resident in Raleigh knows a victim of domestic violence, whether they know it or not. Learn more about domestic violence in Raleigh in part one of this series. Learn more about how domestic violence cases are handled in court in part two.
To protect the privacy and the safety of our sources who were victims of domestic violence, we are only using first names and identifying information is intentionally vague.
Nationwide, 60 percent of domestic violence shelter residents return to their abuser.
InterAct, an organization for people who are victims of domestic abuse, boasts much lower numbers.
Executive Director Leigh Duque said 89 percent of women who are involved with InterAct never return to their abusers.
The InterAct Family Safety and Empowerment Center is a 60,000-square-foot complex that houses eight organizations that focus on victim services, including InterAct itself. The center is based in the old YWCA building on Oberlin Road, less than a mile from where Kathleen Ann Bertrand was murdered by her husband Christopher Bertrand in September.
InterAct is the only provider of its kind in Wake County; 80 percent of its clients are county residents.
In the past, victims of domestic abuse would have to travel to different locations for different services. Crisis counselors, legal assistance, substance abuse treatment and a hot meal could all be in different parts of the city and the county.
With the exception of housing, InterAct has its partners all under one roof.
Duque said InterAct has experienced a tripling in demand for its services. After the center opened in its current location three years ago, three families a day would walk through InterAct’s doors.
Today, InterAct employees could see 23 families in a single day.
The increase in demand is something that Duque views as a good thing.
An increase in demand means that more people are seeking out services rather than continuing to suffer in silence, she said. It also means that the center’s visibility in the community has also increased. The center has been able to provide help to people it wouldn’t normally be able to.
“This is a model that works,” Duque said. “It’s really making a difference.”
Free Services Aren’t Free
Running this model isn’t cheap.
“We’re going to do everything in our power not to turn people away,” Duque said of future funding challenges.
While InterAct has partnerships with different organizations located under its roof, it still has to pay for many of its own programs; three of them operate 24 hours a day.
InterAct operates a shelter for women and children who need a safe place to stay. About 60 percent of the shelter residents have children with them. In the past three years, the shelter was able to expand from 15 to 45 beds.
While the shelter doesn’t house pets, InterAct makes arrangements for animal sanctuary as well. Duque said abusers will often use pets to manipulate their victims. Removing pets decreases the power of the abuser.
The center also operates two crisis hotlines. One is for domestic violence and the other is for rape and sexual assault. Hotline operators are available 24 hours a day.
The number of calls has increased from 10,000 to 17,000 during the past three years.
A unique program is InterAct’s Solace Center.
The Solace Center is the first and only free-standing forensic exam center in the entire state and it operates around the clock, every day of the year.
When someone is a victim of sexual violence, she often goes to the emergency room for an examination and to collect evidence of the crime. Duque said this can be even more traumatizing for a victim. Emergency waiting rooms offer little privacy and long waits, especially if the attack didn’t result in severe injury.
Nurses may or may not have special training to deal with sexual assault victims.
The Solace Center provides these types of exams and employs nurses who are specially trained in sexual violence. Except in medical emergencies, a victim can walk into the clinic or be brought in by a police officer.
On the business end, InterAct employs about 50 people to keep the center running and provide services for victims.
Since InterAct owns the building, it charges rent to its partner organizations. As a landlord, InterAct is also responsible for the upkeep for the building, such as fixing a leaking roof.
The majority of InterAct’s $3.3 million budget is funded by public sources.
Local, state and federal funding makes up 23 percent of the total budget. InterAct also raises revenue through individual and corporate donations, its two thrift stores and private foundations.
The City of Raleigh provides $25,000 for the shelter and kicked in $50,000 last year to fix the roof. Wake County allocates $125,000.
Duque recently appealed to the City Council for increased funding. Ideally, she would like the city to match the county’s allocation.
She said domestic abuse is a public safety issue and public safety is the role of government. While Duque said she doesn’t want InterAct to be reliant on government funding, they are providing a critical service to the city’s residents.
Along with local government, Duque said that it’s important for the community to pay attention.
“We can’t do this alone,” she said.
Culturally and historically, domestic abuse is not something easily discussed in public. Duque said most people have difficulty with it because it is the ultimate betrayal. No one understands how someone could be hurt by the person who is supposed to love them, she said.
Seeking an End to Victim Blaming
Domestic violence support advocates say while things are getting better, there is still a societal problem of blaming the victim for abuse or presuming the victim is trying to take advantage of the system.
As a managing attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina, TeAndra Miller represents many victims of domestic violence. One of the biggest trends she sees is the perception that these women are trying to play the system for other civil matters.
At first glance, outsiders might just see a vicious custody battle and a woman using domestic abuse as an excuse to win custody of her child.
“It’s not unusual … for a child to motivate someone to take action,” said Miller, who is also the project director for Legal Aid’s Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative.
Fear of future child abuse could be the reason a mother needs to escape a bad relationship.
Inter-Faith Food Shuttle — Operates commercial kitchen and provides culinary job training
KIRAN — Outreach, peer support and referrals for South Asian immigrants
Legal Aid of North Carolina — Legal assistance and legal clinics
Raleigh Police Department — Headquarters for the Family Violence Intervention Unit
Solace Center — Forensic exam services for victims of sexual violence
SouthLight — Family substance abuse counseling
YMCA — Operates the pool and after school and summer youth programs.
Domestic Violence: (919) 828-7740
Rape: (919) 828-3005
Ann-Marie, who we introduced in part one of this series, was verbally and emotionally abused by her husband for three years. When he became violent in front of their 3-year-old son, she began fearing for her child’s safety. That fear was her motivation to leave the relationship and seek safety in Boston with family.
Duque said people often ask what the victim could have changed about her situation, or ask why the victim didn’t just leave the relationship.
It’s the question that Ann-Marie hates the most.
“I hate when people say, ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ It’s just not that easy. You don’t understand that unless you lived it,” she said.
In many cases, the moment a victim decides to leave is the most dangerous time in the relationship, Ann-Marie said.
“It’s complicated. It’s not just that simplistic,” she said.
Ritu Kaur, who does community outreach for InterAct, said friends and family need to be more supportive of victims when they come reach out for help.
“Friends and family need to be non-judgmental,” she said.
Instead of blaming the victim, all the advocates we interviewed said the community needs to start asking how the abuser can be held accountable.
“The burden of the abuse needs to be on the perpetrator,” Kaur said.
With one in four women being victims of domestic violence, that that amounts to more than 100,000 women in this community that are suffering in silence, said Christina Brewer, InterAct’s Development and Communications Officer.
InterAct served more than 8,300 direct victims last year.
She echoed Duque by saying that domestic abuse is a community issue and the community needs to end the silence.
“It’s our issue because it’s happening right here in our community,” said Brewer.