The COVID-19 pandemic brought many things to a halt in 2020, but not the need for services provided by Project Woman of Springfield.
Founded in 1974 by a group of volunteers who worked to address the status of women in the community, Project Woman opened its first domestic violence shelter in 1975 following their assistance in capturing a serial rapist.
Since then, Project Woman has assisted countless survivors of domestic violence – women, children and men - including more than 600 last year alone.
This year with COVID-19 protocols in place, Project Woman’s Executive Director Laura Baxter says the need for advocacy and services has been even greater.
“Domestic violence includes physical violence, coercion, emotional abuse, financial coercion, sexual coercion within intimate partners. It’s very broad in its definition,” she says. “These things are rooted in power and control. It restricts independence and creates a dependence and imbalance in power and control.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and Baxter shared sobering statistics:
- Every minute – 20 people are being physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S.
- Every day 20,000 phone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines across the country.
- Each year, more than 30,000 lives are taken at the hands of an intimate partner abuser.
- The CDC estimates that almost a third of all women in the country will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime.
- Men experience domestic and intimate partner violence also. They are coming forward for help and support in increasing numbers.
- Children are exposed to violence, witnessing it in their homes and families at increasing rates. Current data suggests that nationwide about 10 million children witness adult domestic violence each year.
Baxter says prior to COVID-19, local requests for shelter had increased by 54 percent. Following the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders issued by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office in March, Project Woman saw an increase in crisis line calls by more than 30 percent, and shelter requests increased by 74 percent.
“I’m super proud of the Project Woman team for just saying, ‘OK, what do we need to do?’ and being really creative about it and making sure people who needed services could get them,” Baxter says. “It’s an ongoing strategy. It is unique and challenging.”
Project Woman also had an increase in requests for protective orders and increased communication about how to safely exit a domestic violence situation during a pandemic, she says.
“The core of what we do is advocacy,” Baxter says. “Advocacy is about safety planning, looking at all of the options and how to coordinate a plan to support a victim to separate themselves from abuse and violence.”
Project Woman works with supportive housing programs, the Clark County Child Advocacy Center, and other resources in the community to bring safety to survivors. The organization also offers trauma informed community mental health programming and supportive housing programming.
Volunteers are a vital part of what Project Woman is able to offer domestic violence survivors. While COVID-19 has limited what volunteers are able to assist with, Baxter says there is still a need for help in outdoor spaces, donation inventory organizing, and collecting Wish List items for Hope Bags, which are distributed to survivors.
“We need prepaid phone cards, gas cards, personal items, journals,” she says. “We have a fantastic playroom, which we can’t use right now, so we have a need for items that won’t be shared.”
Project Woman held an outdoor candlelight vigil to honor the victims of domestic violence and raise awareness on Oct. 6. However, this year the organization’s annual fundraiser will be held virtually.
DIVA! Night In, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month will be from 7 to 9 p.m. October 29.
“We will Zoom-in small groups for a fun night of music, video tours, auctions, and participant interaction,” Baxter says.
The event aims to “bring those living in the shadow of violence into the light of safety.”
During the pandemic, Project Woman continues to provide essential services and remains open with a commitment to all: “When your home is not safe, you are not alone! We are here for you.”
“It’s the responsibility of the community to end domestic violence,” Baxter says. “Project Woman can’t end domestic violence on its own. To end violence, it takes the whole community to not blame the victim … and acknowledge that this happens in at least 25 percent of all homes in our community. We need to be aware of it and be willing to put our time and talent into supporting the efforts, holding abusers accountable and educating our young people about healthy relationships.”