By Laura Drummond
The phone has been ringing a lot at the Shelter for Help in Emergency. Since the pandemic began, SHE, which provides safe housing and other services for domestic violence victims in the Charlottesville area, has received approximately 50 percent more hotline calls than during the same time period last year. SHE has also seen 30 percent more requests for safe housing than in a normal year, reports the shelter’s Executive Director Cartie Lominack.
“If you’re stuck at home with your abusive partner, there are more opportunities for that partner to be abusive,” Lominack says.
But the shelter has carried on. Lominack looks at the increase in calls as a call to action. “Yes, the hotline has rung more times recently than it did this time last year,” she says, “but every time that phone rings, there’s somebody on the other end of the line asking us to help them.”
The busy period also means the shelter is relying on community support more than ever before. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it’s also around the time the Shelter usually holds its annual 5K run/walk.
The 5K is a tradition in downtown Charlottesville, and it’s one of two annual fundraising events for the nonprofit organization. With its golf tournament canceled due to COVID-19 earlier this year, SHE was committed to keeping the long-standing race going in its 24th year. “We felt it was really important to keep the community engaged with the shelter,” says Lominack. “The new format opens up some possibilities for people to participate who maybe wouldn’t have before.”
The race is typically held on a single day on a particular route. Now, runners and walkers have the entire month of October to complete a 3.1-mile course of their choosing. Everyone receive a face mask with the SHE logo and is encouraged to submit times, routes, and photos to SHE. Results will be posted on what would have been the actual race day, November 7.
About 250 to 300 people register for the 5K each year, with many returning each year. The race is an opportunity to show support for survivors of domestic/intimate partner violence. Some participate to honor the memory of loved ones lost. There have been 83 deaths in the area attributed to domestic violence since SHE opened in 1979, according to Lominack.
Geri Greenspan, a lawyer who works with survivors of intimate partner violence, signed up for the virtual race, making this her fifth year participating in the 5K. She says there’s a feeling of community that can’t be replicated by a virtual event, but that ultimately, it’s about supporting the shelter. “I’ve seen just how prevalent intimate partner violence is in our community,” Greenspan says. “The shelter is the only resource in Charlottesville and the surrounding counties doing what they do.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have been victims of intimate partner violence in the United States. SHE identifies domestic/intimate partner violence as physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. In addition to serving as a residential facility, SHE offers counseling, case management, legal advocacy, Spanish-language outreach, youth programs, and a 24-hour hotline.
“[The hotline] is the link to services in the community—both the shelter’s services and other resources that might be outside of the shelter,” says Lominack. Victims, family members, friends, and allied professionals are encouraged to contact SHE; it doesn’t matter when an instance of domestic violence occurred or if someone has made contact in the past. “There is no limit on the number of times someone can reach out to us or come stay with us,” says Lominack. According to SHE, the average number of times it takes for someone to permanently leave a relationship is seven to 12 times. “We are there each step along that journey.”
The staff and volunteers at SHE recognize how difficult and layered each situation is, and they work to provide a safety plan and other services tailored to an individual’s particular situation and circumstances. “It isn’t one-size-fits-all in terms of what the resources are. It looks different for each individual.”
“We’re providing services,” says Lominack, “and one of those services is hope.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic/intimate partner violence, call the Shelter’s 24-hour hotline at 293-8509 or go to shelterforhelpinemergency.org.