Shining a light on domestic violence

Representatives from Healthy Families of Clallam County, a local domestic violence help organization, said they served more people from the Sequim area in the past year.

Becca Korby, executive director of Healthy Families of Clallam County, said they served 108 domestic violence victims, 63 sexual assault victims and reached 376 students through prevention services.

“We’re seeing an increase with serving Sequim,” Korby said.

“I think Sequim is going to see a wave of adult survivors telling their stories publicly.”

Healthy Families of Clallam County is a private nonprofit that started in 1971. It provides a variety of emergency, supportive, legal, financial, counseling, housing and community education services free of charge to victims of domestic violence, assault and abuse. It also has the only nationally accredited children’s advocacy center on the Olympic Peninsula.

The organization also provides advocacy services, offers parenting classes and has a 24/7 crisis line available.

Korby said the majority of people the organization serves is women, but it is seeing a small increase in men that are willing to come forward.

She explained this increase is happening because victims want their community to understand this behavior is not to be tolerated.

“A community is doing a disservice if we don’t turn on the lights and open the windows — perpetrators need it to be dark and secretive,” she said.

There is no emergency shelter currently available for victims of domestic violence, assault and abuse in Sequim. In 2016, Korby said its organization provided emergency and transitional bridge housing for an estimated 9,500 bed night stays for the entire agency.

Korby said a dream of Healthy Families is to develop an emergency safe house for victims in Sequim. She said in the meantime, transporting victims from Sequim to its Port Angeles facility can be difficult for victims and their families.

“We need to transport people to Port Angeles and that imposes a hardship,” Korby said.

Healthy Families serves the western and eastern ends of Clallam County from the Elwha area to the Jefferson County line.

The children’s advocacy center is based on a multidisciplinary team composed of prosecutors, law enforcement, child protective services, advocacy representatives, mental and health professionals.

This branch helps children that are victims of abuse, neglect and molestation. Korby said children that are victims usually have to endure 7-11 interviews regarding the crime committed against them and Healthy Families reduces this number to 2-4 through its on-site services.

“These are crimes that don’t happen to just one person,” Korby said. She explained if a child is abused, it acts like a ripple effect impacting the family, community and more.

“You changed the fabric of that child and that affects the fabric of that family.”

Korby said the best way a person can combat domestic violence is by telling someone or if a community member hears a domestic disturbance, to report it to law enforcement.

“It is a collective of every community to ensure we have safety for our children and families,” she stated. “It’s not just a women’s issue.”

Law enforcement perspective

The Sequim Police Department works closely with Healthy Families to refer victims of domestic violence, assault and abuse to its help services.

While Healthy Families representatives said it has served more people from Sequim in the last year, Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain said she does not think domestic violence is on the rise in Sequim.

The Sequim Police Department’s annual reports for domestic violence from 2011-2015 indicate the number of incidences have fluctuated for both verbal and physical domestic reports over a five-year period.

Numbers in the annual reports do show there are more reports of physical domestic violence where a crime was committed and either an arrest or referral was made than verbal reports where no crime was committed and no arrest was made.

In 2015, there were 25 reports of verbal/no arrest domestic violence and 50 reports of physical/arrest domestic violence.

Crain said 37-53 physical arrests is in the normal range and preliminary numbers for 2016 also appear to be within that range.

She stated crimes against persons numbers — including all cases of domestic violence, assault and abuse — also do not indicate an increase in domestic violence.

“(There are) no suggestions those numbers are climbing; there’s no actual trend from these numbers,” Crain said.

Korby explained the difference in the numbers of victims her organization serves may be different from the police department’s reports of domestic violence because Healthy Families also is helping victims who do not report to the police.

Crain said Healthy Families’ numbers for people served encompass a host of services that will not directly reflect back to the police department’s arrest data.

Sequim Police Detective Devin McBride, who works closely with Healthy Families through his work as a child forensic interviewer, said he believes domestic violence is a growing concern but not all victims referred to Healthy Families have a conviction.

“It’s a lot more pervasive than people think, especially on the child exploitation side,” McBride said.

He said the increase in people using Healthy Family services may be from referrals made from law enforcement to get help whether a victim has a conviction or not.

Some victims “need someone to help with them with the court system,” McBride explained, and sometimes referrals are made to provide support “saying ‘hey, there’s people there that can help you,’” and that is where Healthy Families can provide assistance.

McBride said he works a lot of cases with crimes against adults and children and frequently is involved in talking with advocates from Healthy Families for information.

“Any officer that works a case with domestic violence or sexual abuse, we do try to refer everyone to Healthy Families,” McBride said.

When law enforcement does respond to a report of verbal or physical domestic violence, Crain said the police department provides a resource document to victims so they are able to reach out to the appropriate agency for help or assistance. It also informs victims of their legal rights.

Funding squeeze

Korby said Healthy Families receives funding from a wide variety of community supporters but has received a significant amount of support from the City of Sequim.

“The dedication of the Sequim City Council to have this support is very important,” she said. “These community members are extremely generous.”

Korby explained the City of Port Angeles has decreased its funding to Healthy Families each year and in a couple of years it will no longer provide funding. She said the City of Sequim provides $11,250 per year to Healthy Families in order to serve Sequim residents that are in need of services.

Some of this funding covers informational and referral services, such as getting victims in touch with an attorney or the right representatives, while other funding provided by the City of Sequim covers prevention education in Sequim schools and a 24/7 crisis line.

“This is not a handout,” Korby stated. “We want to be effective for families and individuals to affect their own change.”

For victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse, Healthy Families of Clallam County 24/7 crisis line is 360-452-4357. The office is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, at 1210 E. Front St., Ste. C, Port Angeles.

Reach Erin Hawkins at ehawkins@sequimgazette.com.

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