Feb. 24—During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center has lost some funding while serving more victims of domestic violence, according to the center's executive director.
"We've been really busy during the pandemic" and the economic downturn associated with it, said Katora Printup, who has been executive director since 2009. "No money equals more problems, and with this pandemic, you're seeing a lot more stress."
In addition, when residents were ordered to shelter in place last year because of the pandemic, that was "a problem" for those whose shelter was "not safe, (as) they weren't able to get away from" abusers, and those who had already been isolated by abusers as a form of control became even more solitary, Printup told the Rotary Club of Dalton recently. Additionally, youth — who were learning virtually instead of in-person — lacked easy, daily access to "connections" like school counselors who could intervene in cases of abuse.
According to USA Today, 20% of child neglect and abuse cases are identified by school counselors and social workers.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services saw a drop in the number of calls to its child abuse and neglect hotline last spring and summer as children spent less time in school buildings and more time learning virtually from home, and that decrease can be attributed almost entirely to fewer calls from educators, according to Director Tom Rawlings.
Youth can be abused not only by family members, but also those with whom they're in relationships, and February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Printup said. "We're seeing an increase in teen dating violence, (both) physical violence and control, and starting at an earlier age, (as early as) middle school."
Roughly a third of teenagers are victims of dating violence, and approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide are subject to physical abuse from a dating partner each year, according to the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center, which provides shelter and support to female, male and child victims of domestic violence, as well as advocacy for victims, in Whitfield, Murray and Gordon counties. Only about half of parents know the signs of teen dating violence, and only a third of teens report it.
"Domestic violence can happen to anyone," and while the results of physical abuse may be most obvious to observers, emotional, financial and verbal abuse are perhaps even more prevalent, Printup said. "You think they're OK, because you don't see a black eye, but they may be suffering in other ways."
"You see the physical abuse," but stalking residences, workplaces and even shelters; harassment, like constant calling and texting; and threats are often present in abuse cases, said Scott Minter, a Superior Court judge for the Conasauga Judicial Circuit (Whitfield and Murray counties). "Those are harder to nail down (than physical abuse), but we see them frequently."
Roughly one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner and reported some form of intimate partner violence-related impact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. More than 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced "psychological aggression" by an intimate partner.
While the public often thinks of women and children as victims of domestic violence, "we've (assisted) some men, too," Printup said. "It can be hard for men to ask for help, but we've seen some really dangerous situations."
Shelter is a safe haven
The Crisis Center operates a 24-hour hotline, (706) 278-5586, as well as a shelter in Whitfield County with a capacity of 36, Printup said. The center also contracts with a hotel to house those in need when over capacity, and the center has been at or above capacity for the balance of the last quarter.
The shelter, the location of which is confidential, "is communal living," with eight bedrooms, and "we keep families together," she said. Children at the shelter can continue attending school, but they are always first on and last off buses to prevent others from seeing the location of the shelter.
If the location is discovered, and an individual threatens the safety of an inhabitant, the Crisis Center can move that person to another Georgia shelter, she said. "There are 46 certified shelters in the state."
Duration of stay in the shelter is "a case-by-case basis," Printup said. "Some come and leave the same day, some stay a week, and for others its months."
Not everyone requires shelter, however, and "a lot of what we do is outpatient services," including counseling and legal advocacy, she said. Peer support groups have benefited many survivors, because they realize "I'm not the only one."
No one who asks the Crisis Center for help is forced to file a legal report about their victimization, but "we support them if they do," she said. "Our job is to offer services, not to judge them, (and) we just want them to be safe."
The center has been a crucial asset for the Conasauga Mental Health Court, which serves Whitfield and Murray counties, said Minter, who presides over the court. Domestic violence has been one of many scourges afflicting several of those in the program, and the center has been a willing partner with the court.
"We do see lots of mental health needs (associated with victims of domestic violence)," Printup said. "We don't do for them, (but) we empower them" so they can help themselves.
Some of these individuals "are completely destitute," Minter said. The Crisis Center has "helped get them jobs and permanent housing."
Providing services during the pandemic
While "some other agencies weren't able to continue their services during the pandemic, we've stayed open to provide 100% of our free, confidential services," despite the added workload and diminished funding, Printup said. "Our Tour of Homes, in December, is one of our biggest fundraisers, but we couldn't do it (in 2020) with the pandemic."
"Some agencies we may not think about being impacted by the pandemic, but they are," said Ricky Robertson, president of the Rotary Club of Dalton. The Crisis Center "has stayed open and is still going, but" can use help to provide its invaluable services.
The center draws funds from various sources, including the state and federal governments, local agencies like the United Way of Northwest Georgia, and private donors, Printup said. "We can always use (donations) of toiletries like washcloths, towels, blankets and laundry soap" for the shelter.
"We provide all those necessities, because some come in only with what they're carrying, so the small things mean a lot to us, and we're really pushing virtual volunteering right now with the pandemic," she said.
Anyone interested in assisting, whether by volunteering or donating, can call the Crisis Center at (706) 278-6595 or email email@example.com.