Safe Space offers help to Grainger County domestic violence victims

RUTLEDGE – Safe Space is offering help to Grainger County domestic violence victims, not only during October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but year-round. Safe Space, located in Sevier County and formerly known as the Cosby Coalition Against Domestic Violence, began serving Grainger County domestic violence victims in July 2020 after the county’s CEASE program ended.

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors, including physical, sexual, emotional, mental or economic. It is typically used by one partner toward another, whether adult or child, to gain or maintain power and control in a relationship. Victims are often frightened, terrorized, manipulated, humiliated or blamed by an abuser, and sometimes killed. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said domestic violence affects millions of people in the United States each year, and claims approximately 1-in-4 women and 1-in-10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence or stalking by a partner during their lifetime. More than 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by a partner, and approximately 11 million women and 5 million men reported experiencing domestic violence before age 18, according to the CDC.

Safe Space Executive Director Van Wolfe said the organization provides legal advocacy to victims. In addition to obtaining orders of protection, Wolfe said representatives from the organization are physically present at court dates to assist victims who are there due to domestic assault charges against abusers. She said Safe Space has always offered shelter services to Grainger County residents, but is now focusing on community outreach. 

“It’s a scary process when you’re in court, period…much less when you’re a victim of domestic violence and afraid of an abuser,” said Wolfe.

She said the organization does safety planning with victims, along with non-offender classes, which is when the Department of Children’s Services asks the non-offending parent to take domestic violence counseling or classes. The organization also provides financial assistance to help a victim get out of an abusive relationship and sustain themselves when they are free.

Safe Space has a 24-hour crisis line victims can call at 1 (800) 244-5968. Their website, www.safespacetn.org, and Facebook page, Safe Space of East Tennessee, are also available. Wolfe said many victims use the website or Facebook because some abusers destroy their victim’s phone.

Wolfe said most victims don’t always identify themselves as a victim. Victims are often used to being emotionally abused and can’t see the abuse. She said it is important for people to educate themselves about domestic violence. She said all are welcome to call Safe Space and talk anonymously with a representative, ask questions and explore options. If the victim is in danger and needs to leave, they should call E-911 services. Wolfe said law enforcement officers will escort the victim to a Safe Space shelter, where they will be allowed to stay as long as necessary. There are no charges for these services. 

Wolfe said if anyone knows someone who is a victim, they should make a call to Safe Space for advice. Outsiders might notice a victim making excuses about why they can’t be around or missing work, or even a change in how the victim acts near their abuser compared to when they are with others. She said physical signs are typically present. She advised people be supportive of those being abused, letting them know they are believed and can be helped. Victims are often blamed for not leaving their partners instead of being given the support they need.

“Getting someone to start that conversation is where it really starts,” said Wolfe. “…Nobody chooses to be in an abusive relationship. It’s not like you see it on the front end.”

Wolfe said Safe Space presents a violence prevention program to schools in East Tennessee. The organization has the program in every school throughout the other three counties it serves and would like to begin offering the program in Grainger County. The program focuses on fourth graders and sixth graders and teaches them about bullying, cyberstalking and safety, family relationship abuse, dating relationship abuse and more. She said the program has allowed several victims to receive help.

Wolfe said COVID-19 has affected the amount of help victims have received because victims are sheltered at home with their abusers and they don’t have a chance to escape. She said the abuse has most likely gotten worse since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Grainger County’s Safe Space representative is Thorn Hill resident Vonda Harville, who served the Grainger County Clerk’s Office for several years before working with Safe Space. Anyone who would like more information about Safe Space or domestic violence can visit www.safespacetn.org or call the 24-hour crisis line at 1 (800) 244-5968.