Domestic violence rising in Vail Valley
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – It’s so easy to judge a domestic violence victim – how hard could it be to leave?
Counselors and organizations in Colorado’s Vail Valley who help domestic abuse victims say it’s extremely hard to leave – so hard that victims put up with abuse to the point that others can’t comprehend.
Dr. Casey Wolfington, the clinical coordinator at the Bright Future Foundation, a local nonprofit that helps domestic violence victims, said victims are terrified to leave because they think they have nowhere to go.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which means the Bright Future Foundation is trying to let locals know about what it does and how it can help victims.
The organization offers a women’s shelter for women and children, transitional housing for victims who need time to become financially independent, counseling services and legal advice, said Sheri Mintz, executive director.
“We can help support (victims) while they’re working on long-term plan,” Mintz said.
Awareness month isn’t just so people in the community know domestic violence exists here, she said. It’s also about spreading the word to victims that there’s help available and it’s not far away.
Part of helping victims is letting them know what abusive behaviors look like, Wolfington said. Abuse doesn’t always come in the form of physical violence, she said.
Controlling behaviors, for example, can become evident early on in a relationship. Wolfington said things as simple as a teenage boyfriend checking his girlfriend’s cell phone all the time is an early sign of control.
April Wilson, a social worker and counselor at the Samaritan Center of the Rockies in Edwards, said another big sign is when someone starts isolating a partner from his or her social networks.
“Then it’s the little things, like I don’t like your friends or I don’t like your family,” Wilson said. “Trying to get people to recognize these (warning signs) is the hardest part.”
Dr. Randy Simmonds, the clinical director at the Samaritan Center, said it’s usually hard for victims to seek help because they’re so ashamed of being in the situation. And because offenders are often genuinely remorseful for what they’ve done, victims tend to stick around and forgive, he said.
“That sort of conspiracy of silence is what allows some of this stuff to go on,” Simmonds said.
Statistics show that children who witness domestic violence growing up are much more likely to get into similar situations in their adult relationships, Simmonds said. It’s something that children are taught, he said.
Wilson said on the flip side of that argument, children also begin to view the abusive behavior as an expression of love. Once the remorse kicks in, the one committing the violence apologizes and expresses love – usually it’s the only time these children see signs of love in the family, Simmonds said.
Victims can also see the abuse as a sign that the abuser truly cares, Wilson said.
“If you care enough to get that upset, then you must really love me,” Wilson said.
By the time people do seek help, Wolfington said, the situation has gotten almost to the point of no return. She said more than 90 percent of the clients at the Bright Future Foundation have children, too.
Men also victims
The Bright Future Foundation has seen a 60 percent increase in its case loads since September of 2008. Mintz and Wolfington relate that to the economy because stressful situations often can lead to irrational behaviors.
“Couples experiencing extreme financial stress are four times more likely (to result to domestic violence),” Mintz said.
While women are typically the victims, Mintz said, it’s not uncommon for men to be victims of domestic violence. The Bright Future Foundation has deals with local hotels to serve as men’s shelters because men aren’t allowed to stay in the women’s shelter.
Men are especially reluctant to ask for help because there’s a stigma, she said.
Another misconception is that domestic abuse only happens in poor households, Simmonds said. He has seen cases from Cordillera to the Dotsero trailer park and everything in between.
Regardless of who the victim is, counselors want them to know there’s help available.
Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org