New Hampshire crisis centers have reported an increase in victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault needing support services over the course of the pandemic, according to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Haven is New Hampshire’s largest organization for the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking and supporting survivors. It offers a multitude of services, including educational programs in schools, fundraisers and events, emergency shelter and housing, and a 24-hour confidential support hotline.
“Haven’s actually a merged agency,” said Executive Director Kathy Beebe. “For a long time, there were two different agencies. There was one called SASS, Sexual Assault Support Services, that did work with sexual abuse survivors, and then there was a domestic violence agency called A Safe Place.”
The year the merge happened, Haven’s annual budget was $1.2 million, which has increased to $2.2 million this past year, said Beebe.
Two of the biggest events held annually, are the Kids Are Our Business Breakfast in April and Ending Violence Changing Lives in October.
Kids Are Our Business is “a way to bring local businesses together to kind of talk about issues in our community and give insight into our education prevention program. We have a large audience of people who work with children or who are in kid related fields, like pediatricians, school coaches, and guidance counselors,” said Haven’s Events and Outreach Coordinator, Lily Cragg.
The Education Prevention Program brings Haven’s staff into elementary schools to teach age-appropriate information about the importance of bodily autonomy, listening to instinct, and how to reach out to a trusted adult if they feel they are in danger. The information is often presented in the form of a puppet show for the children. In middle schools, the discussion focuses on more mature topics such as consent, healthy relationships and dealing with bullying.
“What were still trying to grow, is our emergency shelter,” said Beebe. “For 30 years we’ve only had a really small house. We have a four-bedroom ranch.”
Beebe said that before the coronavirus (COVID-19), they could only fit four people in a suite. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, that is lowered to two. The organization has coped with lack of space by putting people up in hotels, however, this brings its own difficulties.
“When someone’s in imminent danger and they’re fleeing abuse, they should be able to have their own room, with their own bathroom and private areas,” said Beebe.
COVID-19 quarantines have been especially problematic for people dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence due to being stuck at home with abusive people they reside with according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Haven also has a housing program, designed to help support those who are not in immediate danger.
“Lots of people are fleeing abuse or leaving an abusive relationship and they’re not unsafe but they still need some services and programs to get them back on their feet,” said Beebe. “We were fortunate that we got a federal grant this year that’s four years that’s 650,000 dollars that’s going to help us to provide those rental subsidies and services for about 25 families, so that’s really exciting.”
One of Haven’s most important services is their 24-hour support hotline. According to Hotline Coordinator Kyla Yodor, the hotline helps people in a variety of ways, including offering emotional support for survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence, even years after trauma, helping people find lawyers for court hearings, and taking calls from hospitals when survivors are admitted. The average age range of clients who call is 26 to 40, most of whom identify as female.
According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience sexual abuse, physical violence, or stalking from intimate partners.
“At any given time, there are probably half a dozen to 10 people on the hotline and there’s a chat feature which goes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday through Friday,” said Yodor. She also mentioned that every staff member and volunteer for the hotline must go through over 30 hours of training.
“I find that the most gratifying moments are on the hotline, when I’m on with someone and they do the majority of the talking and I do the majority of the listening,” said Yodor. They’ll really work out for themselves what their next step is or they’ll come to a realization on their own, and you kind of are just there holding space through that moment.”
“The work isn’t done,” said Beebe. “That’s why we’re here.”
Photo courtesy of Haven .