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Federal funding will help local domestic violence service center's mission

Domestic Violence Service Center

At the Domestic Violence Service Center trained counselors don't work in black and white situations.

"We work in the gray areas,” said Tammy Rodgers, volunteer and education coordinator at center.

The Luzerne County emergency center’s location is confidential. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They serve anyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation from both Luzerne and Carbon counties. The center can house up to 24 victims and families who can stay for 30 days.

October is domestic violence awareness month.

The center recently received more than $500,000 in federal funding to expand both its physical center and offerings to help a growing number of domestic violence victims, post-pandemic.

When businesses and schools began to shut down in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, calls to the center slowed down, said Rodgers.

The center’s employees, who are all trained counselor-advocates, began worrying about the victims, she said. They wanted them to know that the center — called the DVSC — was considered essential, it was still open.

Those months of isolation exacerbated the situation, she said.

“A lot of people weren't going out to work. And consequently, with the abusers at home, they had more power and control over what the victim did, monitoring their phone, monitoring what they did, who they talked too, when they went out, actually making it more of a violent situation," Rodgers said.

Now, the center is receiving more calls than ever.

“We found that a lot of the cases were a lot more severe in the domestic violence that was going on." she said.

Since its location is confidential, victims from both Luzerne and Carbon County or someone advocating on behalf of a victim, must call first. DVSC employees assess individual situations to figure out the best route to help the victim, said Rodgers. Those gray areas.

They don’t go out to homes but will call the police or EMS with the victim’s permission.

When they arrive, the first priority is the victim’s safety.

“We provide options for them ... what is it that is going to help you ... or maintain your safety. What is it that's going to get you out of this abusive situation," Rodgers said "and making sure that people know that they don't have to stay in that abusive situation. Is it going to be tough? Absolutely.”

Victims often come to the DVSC with nothing.

“If you're fleeing from an abusive situation ... basically you're getting out with your life and the clothes on your back," she said.

The center provides food and personal care items and often relies on donations for both.

While at DVSC, counselors work on goal setting with victims like securing a job or housing. They have access to support services and are given one on one counseling sessions.

“Everybody is their own best expert in their own situation," she said.

The center works to let victims know that the abuse they endured is not their fault, they don’t deserve what happened to them, Rodgers said.

“Their self esteem is so low, that they don't feel like they're worth anything, that they feel like they deserve to have the abuse perpetrated on them," she said. "That's where we come in and we try to ... give people their option, and give people back their self esteem."

The center is all about empowerment and options counseling.

"We're not going to tell people what to do. Because if we're telling people what to do, we're just as bad as the abuser is, because now we're taking away their power and control of what they can do with their lives," she said.

Raising awareness is a key component to running the DVSC, especially during October. Domestic violence is still so prominent in our society, said Rodgers. She discusses domestic violence with everyone from school-aged and college students to seniors. She tells the people she speaks with that domestic abuse is not just physical, it can also be emotional.

Abusers will manipulate victims, call them names and gaslight them, she said. They will make the victim think they’re crazy or totally control their finances. They might threaten to kill themselves if the victim leaves. There’s sexual abuse and martial rape and threatening to take children away, Rodgers said.

"That's what domestic violence is all about … It's all about the power and control," she said.

Rodgers says a victim will leave their situation anywhere from nine to 11 times before actually leaving for good. The abuse is often worse when they go back.

“Maybe the first time it's a slap across the face, second time it's a broken arm, third time broken ribs, fourth time, internal injuries and fifth time she's dead," she said.

In 2021, 112 victims died in Pennsylvania due to domestic violence-related accidents, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s annual Fatality Report. Four of those victims were in Luzerne and Carbon counties.

The organization’s annual list is based on news accounts, police departments and information received from Pennsylvania domestic violence programs. The report does not include cases where no arrests have been made or where the relationship between victim and perpetrator is unclear.

The organization — called the PCADV — has been in existence since 1976 they receive funding from the state’s Department of Human Services and distribute it to the 59 service centers serving Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. The Luzerne DVSC has a satellite office in Carbon County.

Julie Bancroft, the Chief Public Affairs Officer for the PCADV, said it can be dangerous for friends or family to intervene in a domestic violence situation.

“The best thing that someone can do is to let them know that if they suspect that abuse is happening is that they're there for them,” Bancroft said.

Free and confidential help is also available at local centers for those who suspect domestic violence is happening to a loved one, she added.

Ending domestic violence begins with preventing it, Bancroft said.

“That really requires a shift, a cultural shift in how we look at domestic violence and what it is and how we respond as communities and society right now," she said. "There's still really significant misconceptions that domestic violence is only physical, and that it only happens to certain kinds of people. And that's absolutely not the case .... it really can truly happen to anyone, and it does … it's not just physical either.”

At the Luzerne center, Rodgers said their purpose help victims realize they are worth something.

"Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not ... it's going to be the hardest thing in the world for you," she said. "However, we can help you with the steps of getting to where you want to be.”

For more details, visit domesticviolenceservice.org/

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.