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October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Thousands call agencies for help

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It’s easy to brush by that title and not take in the full extent of its meaning. But several local organizations provide help for those who deal with domestic abuse day after day and month after month.  

For Bedford County’s Haven of Hope—a care group and emergency shelter for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault— they had some 1,113 calls made to the crisis hotline, according to their latest fiscal year report.  

Expanding outreach  

For those calling for domestic abuse, Haven of Hope has pushed on further and started a violence fatality review team, which will identify and review domestic abuse deaths and facilitate communication.  

“Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate...and a lot of people don’t think their cases are serious. We provide help for everyone. These people are out here all the time and the best thing to do is bring awareness and to listen...to understand their needs and prevent further harm,” said Allison Niffen from Haven of Hope.  

These organizations often do not work alone. For example, Haven of Hope takes on high risk cases to shelter, while Blue Monarch, a residential recovery center in Monteagle, focuses on helping women and children in domestic abuse relationships recover after the fact.  

“Part of what makes us unique is that we focus on the child’s recovery as much as we do the mother’s recovery,” said Susan Binkley, founder of Blue Monarch.  

Breaking the cycle  

Blue Monarch began in 2003 after Binkley had a dream—a literal dream where she was given a book on how to start something like Blue Monarch, she said.  

“It fell into place exactly like the dream,” she said. As a former art gallery director and horse farm owner, her background has no connection to what she does today. But she and her team have created a unique organization that’s tailored to provide hands-on support and residential recovery space to focus on “parenting sober.”  

At the start, “I thought we’d be dealing primarily with domestic violence, and what I’ve realized, very quickly, was that drug use becomes a part of that— that they almost go hand-in-hand because so many women turn to some substance to numb themselves from the pain. And then the drug use becomes an even bigger problem than the domestic violence,” Binkley explained.  

And from this drug abuse, domestic violence becomes a cycle, which creates a “culture” of domestic abuse.  

“One of the things we’ve noticed is many of the women don’t mark on their application that they’re a victim of domestic violence because they don’t recognize that as such. Maybe they grew up with it in the home and it’s just a part of their culture,” she said.  

It’s not until they are taken out of those situations to live at the residents at Blue Monarch that they realize what an unhealthy relationship looks like— which even spreads to their children. If the children have seen or witnessed any of that abuse in the past, then it’s very likely they will repeat that one day, Binkley said.  

Part of what Blue Monarch tries to do is teach the child that that kind of behavior is inappropriate.  

“That’s one of the things that I think is really valuable in our parenting program—is that it’s not uncommon for the child to show up, treating the mom with no more respect than what they’ve observed the father treat her. And so really, it’s a cycle that has to be broken; we have a great opportunity to break it while they’re here,” said Binkley. They take in children under the age of nine.  

Often, Mom doesn’t know how to respond to her 9-year-old son who’s cussing and hitting her— so, that really takes hands-on coaching, Binkley explained. That, too, has been exacerbated by the pandemic.  

“We have so many children with trauma, which has increased over the last couple of years, especially with all the quarantining.” Binkley said she is expecting to hear even more stories, and Blue Monarch has added the new position of child life specialist to help with the increase in cases. 

Other programs 

They also take in women who have a history of incarceration, sex abuse, and drug abuse—women who have lost custody and regain custody. But in Blue Monarch’s nearly 20-year history, close to 300 women have been reunited with their children.  

Blue Monarch provides parenting classes and work ethic program as well as the opportunity for women to work making “Out of the Blue” granola, a unique and popular treat that started at a restaurant Binkley had in Sewanee. It is now produced onsite at the Blue Monarch facility.  

This is coupled with Blue Monarch’s faith-based programs, which give the women and children of domestic abuse something new to seek.  

“As they develop a personal relationship with God, then a lot of times that relationship fills that void that they have so desperately been trying to fill. And then they’re less inclined to seek it everywhere,” Binkley said.  

So, getting initiatives like Domestic Awareness Month out can help people become informed and, hopefully, emboldened to speak up when they see domestic abuse.  

“Sometimes I wish people would be more bold because I feel like sometimes people might suspect that there’s a problem or they might even know for sure there’s a problem, but they don’t act on it and... They become a part of problem because they’re telling women they deserve what’s happening to them,” Binkley added. 

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