By Megan Shaw
It’s a team effort in Rockbridge County to get a handle on domestic violence. Lexington Police Chief Bucky Miller says that it’s imperative for local law enforcement to work with victim support groups like Project Horizon to deal with the issue.
“Not everybody that’s involved in domestic violence comes to the police, but they do call domestic violence hotlines or they do go straight to court,” Miller said.
That’s where organizations like Project Horizon come in. Founded in 1982, the group began as a grass roots effort to provide confidential services to local victims of domestic abuse.
Today, the organization offers counseling, legal advocacy, education programs, an emergency shelter and a 24-hour crisis hotline. Katrina Flowers, Project Horizon’s director of client services, says that all of the group’s clients are victims of domestic or sexual violence.
Crisis intervention and counseling services were provided for 105 adult and 47 child victims of domestic violence from July 2010 to June 2011. These services were also provided to 27 adult and four child victims of sexual violence during that same period.
This was a decrease in total cases from the previous year when the group helped 121 adult victims of domestic violence and 31 adult victims of sexual violence. Project Horizon saw 44 child victims of domestic violence and 27 child victims of sexual violence from July 2009 to June 2010.
Together with the local police, Project Horizon has helped form the coalition Rockbridge CARES: community, action, response, education and support. The group meets once a month to discuss case management.
“We also use that time to catch up on what the various agencies are doing and how we can improve our collaborative efforts,” said Judy Casteele, Project Horizon’s executive director.
Still, Miller said that domestic violence continues to be an issue in Rockbridge County.
“I don’t think we really understand the big ‘L’ word, love,” he said.
He thinks people stay in unhealthy relationships too long. It’s the mentality of, ” ‘Someone loves me, they’re doing this because of something I did, they’re doing this because of the economy, or they’re doing this because of this reason,’” he said.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in every four women is a victim of domestic violence sometime in her life, and only a quarter of those incidents are reported.
Miller said he believes the only way to combat domestic abuse locally is by working together with Project Horizon and similar organizations to raise awareness and address the problem head on.
He said that one of Project Horizon’s most important services is its work with area schools. “I think everybody, especially on this one issue, tries to work together,” he said.
In the past year, Project Horizon staff and volunteers made 424 presentations to 7,426 students, a dramatic increase from the previous year when they gave 316 presentations to area churches, colleges and civic groups, with only 801 people in attendance.
While increased educational opportunities have helped to raise awareness, Miller said domestic violence has also changed over time because of an increase in reports of abuse.
“I think women are more independent now than I think they ever have been. I think women have realized that they don’t really have to tolerate it,” he said. “They work, they have their own dreams, ambitions, and they don’t need men as much as they used to.”