Center serves victims of domestic and sexual violence

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Every year, over 157,000 adult North Carolinians are victims of domestic violence, costing the state nearly $307.9 million, or $32.26 per resident, excluding the cost of emergency shelters, according to a study last year at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Helping to address the needs of women and children in Durham County who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault is the Durham Crisis Response Center, which focuses on advocacy, education, prevention and support.

The Center, which was created in February 2001 through the merger of Rape Crisis of Durham and the Orange-Durham Coalition for Battered Women, has served over 20,000 women and children, including 237 women and children who stayed at its 18-bed shelter and another 3,800 who called its crisis line.

“There’s no wrong door where a victim can come to us,” says Aurelia Sands-Bell, the Center’s executive director.

Since she joined the Center in July 2006, its annual operating budget has doubled to just over $1 million, it has trained its staff of 8 full-time and 12 part-time employees, and its volunteers, to handle clients with a range of needs, languages and cultural backgrounds, and it has expanded its services and its collaboration with partner agencies.

In addition to its shelter and 24-hour, confidential crisis line, services include accompanying clients to the hospital and court; legal clinics with local lawyers; support groups; counseling; and referrals for job training, housing, child care, and other community services.

The Center also offers workshops and training for service providers, churches, schools, police, hospitals, civic groups and other community members.

The Center has added Spanish-speaking staff to field calls on its crisis line; expanded its counseling for individuals and groups; added legal advocates and a sexual assault investigator; and is working more collaboratively with law-enforcement and criminal-justice officials, schools, and the Durham County departments of public health and social services.

Law-enforcement officials and Duke Medical Center have been strong partners of the Center, she says.

It also is partnering with schools, faith-based communities and youth organizations to provide a six-to-eight-week pilot program to help 80 students in middle school and high school see the link between alcohol and sexual violence.

The Center counts on government and United Way grants for half its funds; contributions for 20 percent; events, including a spring golf classic, for 10 percent; and a thrift store at 2715 Chapel Hill Blvd. for 20 percent.

One of every four women in the U.S. is the victim of violence at the hands of an intimate partner during her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the number of clients the Center serves has increased by roughly 25 percent since she joined the organization, Sands-Bell says.

The Center is in the planning phase of an effort to expand its shelter.

Sexual violence is “far more widespread than people want to think or believe” and is tied to other community problems, she says. Many women are homeless, for example, as a result of domestic or sexual violence, she says.

More victims are seeking assistance from the Center and other agencies because of increased awareness about the problem of domestic and sexual violence and a greater sense of “being believed and knowing they can get help,” she says.

It also is important to “have honest conversations with our young people about sexual assault and violence and really address the impact of violence on the lives of children,” Sands-Bell says.

Yet it can be tough for communities to talk about domestic or sexual violence or support efforts to address the needs of victims because the issue is “taboo” for many people, with victims often feeling a “sense of shame, of not being believed,” and perpetrators not wanting to “own up to this problem,” Sands-Bell says.

“We have to look at domestic violence and sexual assault as a community issue, a societal issue,” she says, “not simply as a women’s issue.”

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