Family violence conference aims to create awareness

Sponsors hope to educate victims, survivors and those who want to help

October 28, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Response to Family Violence Conference tomorrow will involve those who most often respond to victims, those who have the resources to help them and those who have survived and overcome the trauma of abuse.

The county's Local Management Board, a group of public and private organizations that work to improve the lives of children and families, has partnered with the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council to organize the day-long event at Carroll Community College, with a $37,000 Byrne Memorial grant from the state Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

About 200 participants will attend workshops on how to identify and deal with child abuse, youth violence and disruptive behavior, and sexual abuse. Many of those attending work in education, law enforcement and social services as well as health and childcare fields. The conference will delineate the paths from crisis to treatment and highlight resources, including the court system.

"We are looking at the whole conundrum of family violence," said Mary M. Scholz, administrator of the management board. "This conference pulls it all together for everyone involved, from the minister to law enforcement, courts and social services. Everybody will hear the same message and be made aware of each other's resources.

Elizabeth Vermilyea, training director for Sidran Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims recover from violence and trauma, will give the keynote address and lead a panel discussion on trauma.

"Raising awareness is a huge part of this effort and demystifying is another," Vermilyea said. "We have to take the fear out of helping."

Attendance numbers are impressive, she said.

"It speaks to the need for information on how to help, how to prevent and even support as survivors go through different stages," she said. "The more you help people recover, the more prevention work you are engaging in."

Scholz said she hopes the conference will encourage others to become educated in assisting survivors. Building community capacity will lead to more trainers who can deal with problems in the county. Sidran staff will return to the county in a few months for more intensive training for those on the front lines

"Training needs to be interdisciplinary," Scholz said. "There are close links between child abuse and domestic violence. We are looking to break the cycle."

Data from Carroll court records on protective orders show that in 94 percent of the cases, children are involved. Family violence crosses all boundaries and is an under-reported crime surrounded by stigma, Scholz said.

"You can be a high school dropout or a Ph.D.," Scholz said. "This is a pervasive problem that is not tied to poverty. And it actually happens in Carroll County."

Each family's story is unique, so responses and resources cannot be standardized.

"There are different laws and services, and families come in different packages," Scholz said.

It helps if survivors know what services are available to help and that many trained people are willing to listen. That training can be the key to a victim's survival, she said. Vermilyea added that even among professionals, there is a fear about the inability to help.

"You need to be an expert in working with people," Scholz said. "Your first reaction will either close the door or open it for help. When a survivor has the courage to speak out, it is important for the community to respond in helpful ways."

Vermilyea said, "There is a clear link between helping survivors and preventing violence."

In an ideal world, more preventative services will become readily available and survivors will feel they have the community's support, Scholz said.

"Maybe then, we won't have second and third generations suffering with family violence," Scholz said.

The management board has helped the county to take a step in addressing the problem with the opening next month of Carroll's first Safe House, a haven for families coping with violence. The building will house as many as eight women and children for up to two months.

Conference organizers will have information available on various resources throughout the day. FoolProof Theatre, a group of actors in their teens, will perform. There will also be "The Clothesline Project," a display of T-shirts created by victims and their loved ones.

The conference will end with the testimony of a survivor.

The conference opens at 8 a.m. at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster. Registration is $10 for county residents and $15 for out-of-county residents. Information: 410-386-3600.

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