MILLEDGEVILLE — The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) started Domestic Violence Awareness Month with the intent to connect battered women's advocates across the nation working to end violence against women and their children.
Coinciding with this awareness month, Baldwin County's In Our Best Interest (IOBI) Domestic Violence program graduated seven women Thursday, Oct. 17.
IOBI is a free 10-class series that elevates self-esteem and counsels local women by empowering them to get help. Meetings are held every other Thursday of each month along with free childcare when attending classes.
One of Baldwin County's Victim Advocates, Linnesia Latimore, said the IOBI program is educational and therapeutic in nature.
“What we try to learn during those 10 classes is what battery means, why it is so powerful, what a healthy relationship is, what an unhealthy relationship is and how domestic violence affects children in the home,” Latimore said. “Every other week we really get a chance to know these ladies. We are very proud of all of our graduates.”
Since its inception, the domestic violence support class has graduated hundreds of women, teaching them the signs of abuse and empowering them to take control of their own lives and circumstances by getting help and getting out of abusive relationships.
IOBI is an entity of the Baldwin County solicitor general's office Project S.A.F.E. program.
Each year the In Our Best Interest (IOBI) group and Project S.A.F.E. help area women and children free themselves from domestic-violence related paths and abuse by providing counseling and resources that put them in touch the with help they need to escape. It may be in the form of legal advocacy, a mentor or just someone to listen.
Several years ago, Solicitor General Maxine Blackwell saw the need after coming face to face with abusers in her office who needed counseling and realizing that little or no resources were available for those victims they abused.
Blackwell made sure Baldwin County had the proper programming in place by the late 1990's.
During Oct. 1998, Johnnie Wilson, director of the county's victim's services program, and former Georgia College Psychology Department Chair Dr. Sheree Barron received training for the IOBI model in Duluth, Minn.
“We became facilitators of the program, but it was the brainchild of Maxine Blackwell,” Wilson said. “We were just the tools to put it in place. We've been going strong since then.”
The program celebrated 15 years of achievement during last week's graduation.
The women learn about boundary setting and what the consequences of violating those should mean in a good relationship, according to Latimore.
“Some of our participants have never really taken the time to examine what a healthy relationship is as opposed to what an unhealthy relationship is, so they get a chance to compare,” Latimore said. “We try to get the women to see a healthy relationship that is something that is the equivalent as freedom. If you can visualize something that is real and concrete, then it becomes more attainable to you.”
Children often see abuse first-hand and are more likely to contribute to the vicious cycle as they become adults.
“How can you break the cycle of violence when that's all the children see?” Wilson said.
The domestic violence advocacy work isn't budgeted through the local solicitor's office. Community support and donations keep the vital service going.
“The support lets the victims know the community does care, and this violence at home is not something the community takes lightly and there is help if you want otherwise,” Latimore said.
One in every four women in America will experience domestic violence at some point.
Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women, and yet, it is statistically one of the nation's most chronically underreported crimes, according to a report to the NCADV.
There are solutions out there. Contact the solicitor general's office at 478-445-4445 for local support or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is available 24 hours a day in all 50 states at 1-800-799-7233.
Another upcoming event during the national awareness month is next week. Shiloh Baptist Church at 204 Harrisburg Rd. will host Women Against Violence! to help break the chains of violence in the community on Monday, Oct. 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Evangelist Estella Ellison will be the keynote speaker. Wilson and other guest speakers and participants will be present. Everyone is invited.
This will be the first of several programs to address domestic violence.
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