By Sharon Svec
The Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force was started in 1992 as a way to spread awareness and engage the community in preventing and addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in Clark County. The group meets four times a year to discuss the needs of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. The goal of the task force is to provide a more effective and coordinated community response for survivors through regular communication and joint discussion. Topics and the style of meeting vary. Topics range from sex offender treatment to human trafficking, and the meeting style may be in the form of a panel discussion, presentation, or workshop.
The most recent meeting held on July 24th was on the impact of family violence on children and youth. Twenty people were in attendance including guests from Children’s Center, Children’s Home Society, Healthy Decisions, and the NorthWest Justice Project. While task force meetings seem to be often attended exclusively by service providers, I found this discussion to be relevant to most anyone.
Panelists included Helen Sullivan from the Children’s Center, Bev Collins from the Independent Living Skills Program of YWCA, and Heather Redman of YWCA’s Clark County CASA Program. Each panelist had valuable insight to share, and there were a few themes that kept recurring throughout the discussion: how children and youth exposed to violence in the home view themselves, the effects of an ever-changing environment, and how we can support children, youth and families in consideration of these perspectives.
One point that I found especially relevant is that people recognize the lifestyle in which they were raised as being “the norm.” When raised in a violent household, it may seem normal for moms and dads to fight. It may seem appropriate to respond to conflict with aggression or to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. When children are removed from their home because of abuse, neglect or violence, separated from their family and jettisoned into a life of courts, counselors, advocates, foster care and more, life can become very confusing.
Once separated from their family, the child is challenged to accept a new idea of “normal” behavior. They may feel obligated to blend into a new way of living. Plus, they are often asked to share their experiences with a slew of strangers. Coping mechanisms are learned in the home, so when a child, youth, or even parent is facing these challenges, the internal conflict they may feel might actualize in ways that are unhealthy.
Service providers, foster parents, and all community members can better support each other by recognizing and respecting the past experiences of an individual, reminding themselves and those they work with that everyone has different life experiences, and by giving children permission to bear the feelings they have.
Overall, I found the meeting to be very informative. I saw service providers ask questions and instigate valuable discussions. Personally, I was reminded about the varied histories we share, and how to better respect those experiences as we interact with each other. Whether providing direct service or simply interacting with another person in our community, we can all benefit from actively recognizing that context influences our perspectives.
Please join us at the next DV/SA task force meeting on Tuesday, September 23rd from noon to 1:30pm, focused on the court’s response to domestic violence. Guest panelists include Judge Sonya Langsdorf who is the incoming domestic violence judge, a representative from Vancouver’s Office of Public Defense, and a guest from the Domestic Violence Prosecution Center. Panelists will answer questions submitted prior to the meeting. Please submit your questions early to firstname.lastname@example.org and note if you would like your name to remain private.