CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Every nine minutes, a call is placed to a domestic violence hotline in West Virginia.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and organizations like Fairmont-based HOPE, Inc. are working hard to spread awareness and education for what women — and men — can do if they find themselves in that situation.
“It’s good that there’s a new conversation being had by seemingly everyone across the nation and here in West Virginia especially,” HOPE, Inc. Advocate Brittany Dunbar said on a recent appearance on WAJR-Clarksburg’s “The Gary Bowden Show.”
Hope, Inc. services five counties, including Marion, Harrison, Doddridge, Gilmer and Lewis, with outreach offices located in each county. A 24-hour hotline is also available.
“We provide a safe place in our office or on the phone to start a safe conversation, and we can decide or help the victim — or survivor, as we like to call them — decide what’s safest for them,” Dunbar said. “They know their situation the best and what’s safe for them. We do have a shelter, and we do provide safe places.”
The shelter in Fairmont just opened last April, providing food, clothing and a safe, supportive environment to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
“It’s very nice, and I think most survivors are very happy over there. It’s always full, it seems like, but we’ll get you somewhere safe,” Dunbar said.
For those who call the hotline, they’re most likely to find an advocate like Dunbar on the other end of the phone.
“Depending what the situation is, I could refer to our sexual assault advocate or we could meet them at the hospital,” Dunbar said. “In more of a domestic violence setting, you’ll talk to one of us, we can just listen. We always believe them, of course, and we provide them with options.”
Dunbar said those options include reviewing the victim’s rights and their options for safety.
“If they need to go to a shelter, we can do that, but sometimes that’s not always the best thing for somebody,” she said. “We could explain another less scary option could be filing a protective order or a personal safety order and how we could go about doing that process and explaining that it’s a civil process.”
All of HOPE’s outreach offices also offer counseling.
As for reporting, Dunbar said, there is no time limit.
“If you were going to the hospital, if you’re talking about sexual assault, you should ideally do that within the first 72 hours,” she said. “Victims don’t have to report, it’s totally their decision.”
While helping survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault is a large part of HOPE, Inc.’s mission, they also have prevention educators that spend significant time speaking to groups and to schools about HOPE’s services and about basic education.
Although this is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Dunbar said sexual assault has been the key subject in most of those visits as of lately.
“Once you know what to do, it can make it easier if you find yourself in that place,” she said.
Dunbar said the topic of rape and sexual assault is one not typically discussed in a standard health class.
“No one really told us much, but they did tell us, ‘Don’t take a shower,’” she said. “We let them know that sometimes there are no injuries. People say they didn’t believe somebody because they didn’t have injuries. Our human body is made to receive certain things in certain areas, so we educate them on that they may not see things, but other DNA could be other places on their body.”
That’s why going to the hospital for a sexual assault exam is so vital, Dunbar said.
“There’s a special nurse that does that, and we can have an advocate there so you’re not alone and it’s no so scary,” she said.
And it’s not only about teaching someone what to do if it happens to them, but also how to help if it happens to someone they know.
“‘If this doesn’t apply to you or if you’re listening, you may know somebody,” Dunbar said. “Somebody may turn to you, and what you can do is believe them. You said say, ‘Somebody came to my high school and talked about this and you can call them.’ You can tell them, ‘It is okay. There are safe spaces.’”
HOPE’s 24-hour hotline is (304) 367-1100. To learn more about HOPE, Inc. visit their website here.