Clark Shines Light on Dark Problems

Graphic of Stats about Domestic Violence This graphic contextualizes data about domestic violence and contains important phone number. Graphic: Diana Aristizabal

“Far too many of my students, sadly, have first-hand knowledge of domestic violence,” said Kerry Duff, Clark Women’s Studies instructor.

October, being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, brought to light that a number of Clark students and locals have first-hand experience of domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Twenty people are physically abused by their intimate partners every minute, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In addition, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services reports that domestic violence is on the rise. In 2014, there were 95,232 crisis and information calls made to local domestic violence programs, a 17 percent increase from 2013.

Duff dedicates one week of her course to the issue of violence against women, although the topic is a focus throughout.

Duff encourages students to connect what they’re learning to their personal experiences, but understands the coursework can potentially be triggering and offers alternative assignments. “I worry about all of my students during this week,” she said.

Students open up to Duff though. “Most of the time, they just want to talk about their experience,” she said. “Sometimes, they want to share with the class and feel that doing so helps them move on.”

Duff said women’s studies also provides a way for students “to identify a situation that could potentially be or become violent.” Nevertheless, Duff said her course is not a domestic violence workshop.

“One of the main goals [of women’s studies] is to make such societal problems visible, so that we, as a society, can no longer just dismiss domestic violence as a ‘private, family issue,’” Duff said.

Unfortunately, Duff has not seen domestic violence awareness increase significantly over the nine years she’s taught at Clark.

To shine some light on this problem, Courtney Braddock, ASCC Activities Director, invited two YWCA advocates to speak at Clark on Oct. 26.

The YWCA divides the pattern of violence into three phases: tension building, assault and manipulation. In the cycle, the abuser first blames the victim for relationship problems, then becomes physically or emotionally violent before finally apologizing and trying to regain the victim’s trust.

Michelle Polek, Outreach LGBTQ and Advocacy Specialist for the YWCA, said the YWCA has been trying to increase its presence in the community by giving presentations to colleges, youth groups, medical providers, private businesses and other educational institutions.

Polek said the YWCA is the only domestic violence shelter in Clark County and the only gender inclusive shelter in all of Southwest Washington. Responding to domestic violence can be tough, and she doesn’t want to “turn people off to accessing services.”

“We’re very focused on meeting people where they’re at and providing the best services for them at that point in their lives,” Polek said. “We don’t ever tell people ‘this is what you should do.’ We recognize that survivors are the most informed about their own lives.”

She said this point becomes relevant when people try to tell victims to “just leave.”

In at least 55 percent of homicides by abusers, the victim had left or was trying to leave, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Stephanie Barr is the director of the YWCA’s SafeChoice program. SafeChoice provided 5,293 bednights at the YWCA shelter in 2014, and also offers one-on-one empowerment advocacy and female, gender inclusive and Spanish speaking support groups for survivors.

“We just presented a training to Clark College nursing students, which we provide quarterly, to help prepare future nurses to recognize and respond to the signs of domestic violence,” Barr said.

The YWCA focuses on educating others in several ways, including In Her Shoes: Living with Domestic Violence, a simulation where participants make choices as if they’re living the life of a domestic violence victim.

“We want to emphasize that everyone in our community has a role to play in ending domestic violence, and we want to encourage community members to take action,” Barr said.

One of the APB-sponsored events during Domestic Violence Awareness Month dealt with another form of violence against women: sex trafficking. Like domestic violence, it is also a major problem locally.

“The Portland-Vancouver area is one of the biggest places where sex trafficking started,” said Victoria Fidkevich, APB Awareness Events Coordinator. “People are reeled in and then shipped off.”

One former Clark student who had earned her nursing degree was “reeled in” but avoided being shipped off.

Brianna, now a nurse and guest speaker for Shared Hope International, shared her story at Clark’s Sex Trafficking event Oct. 20. Her presentation included a video called “Chosen.”

“Every girl, essentially just because they are a girl, are vulnerable,” Brianna said. Girls are the most common victims, but boys can be too.

Most sex trafficking victims are 13 years old when targeted, but the range typically extends to 25.

“I know many survivors trafficked in their early college years,” Brianna said.

Brianna was targeted by two of her regular customers at the cafe where she worked in high school.

At the time, Brianna was a successful Running Start student eager to be on her own. Although not aware at the time, she said those customers were taking down every bit of information she gave them and passing it on to two college-aged men.

“That’s the hard thing I think. The intentions,” she said. “You never know who’s sitting in front of you and what intentions they have with the information that you are giving them.”

The college-aged men came into her work one day, saying all the right things and having all the same interests as Brianna. “We had so much in common,” she said. “These guys really get me.”

Eventually, the men lured Brianna into spending the day up in Seattle without telling her parents and quickly convinced her to move in. This worried one of her close friends.

When she returned to get her belongings, her friend’s parents, her parents and Congresswoman Linda Smith were waiting to talk with her. Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope International, warned Brianna of the danger she was in and shared stories of people she had rescued.

Smith’s stories began raising red flags in Brianna’s three-week friendship with the men and helped her avoid a dangerous situation.

Many girls are like Brianna, wanting to be independent, make their own money and support themselves. Brianna said “those guys” offer girls a way to do that. Sadly, it is extreme manipulation.

“When a girl goes ‘renegade’ and she’s essentially on her own working, we see a trend of, within 72 hours, most of them are under the control of a pimp,” Brianna said. “They also can be controlled by family members, step-parents, uncles, things like that.”

Brianna believes that stopping the buyers, through harsher penalties, solves the problem. “It’s a supply and demand market,” she said.

Fidkevich hopes this event really makes an impression on students. “Because [Shared Hope International] is so close to home … it really does make an impact.” Fidkevich said Brianna and Shared Hope International work closely with Clark College.

Most important to Fidkevich is keeping students and their families out of harm’s way. “I want to make sure that the community finds a way to stay safe.”

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