It may come as a shock that approximately one in four women in Hall County will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.
Fortunately these women have the staff and volunteers at Gateway Domestic Violence Center to turn to in their darkest hour of need.
It all starts with a phone call. Abuse victims can call Gateway at a special hotline at any time where they can explain their situation to a Gateway representative.
“Everything we offer is free and everything we offer is in English and Spanish,” said Jessica Butler, executive director of Gateway. “We have a 24/7 crisis hotline where people can call if they want to talk and get help for their situation…that’s the way most people reach us for the first time.”
This initial phone call helps the representative determine which services are best suited for the victim. Depending on the severity of the victims’s situation, Gateway can offer shelter at an undisclosed location for women and their children who are in immediate danger and need to escape an abusive environment.
In addition to emergency shelter, Gateway offers a Transitional Housing Program to help victims get back on their feet. This program offers temporary housing for victims and their families with the ultimate goal of helping them find a safe, permanent home.
“A big piece is credit repair…we have found that 97 percent of victims of domestic violence there is some type of financial abuse,” said Cindy Bryant, the Transitional Housing Program coordinator. 10:50 “We start from the very beginning working on moving forward.”
The Transitional Housing Program lasts for a time period between six months and two years. Victims are offered space at an undisclosed location. Due to a limited amount of space, these locations are primarily offered to victims who have nowhere else to go and are in extreme danger.
But there’s more to Gateway than emergency shelter or housing. The center offers support groups for non-residents and legal assistance through the Hall County Courthouse. The support groups include an emotional support group, life skills group, parenting support group and art space support group.
Butler spoke specifically to how the art space support group benefits victims.
“On the art side, survivors were really getting to express their feelings and participate in activities that were calming and just help them communicate how they’re feeling,” said Butler. “The craft group actually taught some of our survivors skills that they’ve used to make some income, we’ve had people who learned a skill here and then set up a shop on Etsy.”
In addition to support groups for the victims, Gateway offers similar programs for children and teens because of the impact that domestic violence can have on the entire family.
“The whole family is traumatized, not just the mom and we’ve seen some beautiful stories of growth for the whole family,” said Bryant. 5:09 “We see the little two-year-old that’s in Pre-K now and would never talk because of trauma and now just talk, talk, talk.”
Fortunately, Butler said that Gateway has not seen an increase in cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she said that the pandemic has created a “perfect storm” of opportunity for abuse and offered some tips for recognizing domestic violence.
She said that some obvious signs of abuse are hitting or sexual assault, but a lot of abuse can be more subtle.
“A lot of it is put downs, name calling, controlling behavior, isolating the person from their family and friends, and those are things that people on the outside may begin to notice to0,” said Butler.
Staff at Gateway are willing to talk to family members or friends of a victim if the victim is not willing to come forward yet. However, the goal of Gateway is to help the victim whenever they are ready.
“We try to approach our work in a way that’s supportive of people who are thinking about leaving the relationship,” said Butler. “We’re never going to tell a survivor of abuse what to do, or that she needs to leave. We’re going to accompany her on the path of making her own decisions”
Bryant added that she hopes having Gateway in the community will help to take away the stigma and shame from a survivor of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is very common is every socioeconomic level, the people that we see just have less resources,” said Bryant. “But it happens to everyone, so I would love to take away the stigma and the shame from the survivor, and to empower anyone who needs help to call.”
Currently, the staff at Gateway are focused on raising money for their Capital Campaign; funds from this campaign will go toward the construction of a new center. This center will nearly double the living space for victims and their families.
While Butler, Bryant and the rest of the Gateway staff would greatly appreciate any donation toward the Capital Campaign, the community can also help by volunteering at Gateway or donating to the needs list on the Gateway website. More information is at https://www.gatewaydvcenter.org.
If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, call the Gateway Domestic Violence Center hotline at 770-536-5860. A Gateway representative will be more than happy to talk with you.
For Goodness Sake is a monthly series highlighting non-profits in the North Georgia area. Have a non-profit that you would like to see featured? Email the author at [email protected]!