Guest column: A look behind closed doors
Please excuse me. I’m about to present you with a troubling statistic, but I promise I’ll also share some suggestions to reduce the scope of the problem. And some of my proposed remedies are fun. So please read on.
Here’s the troubling part: In 2013, Pitkin County Adult and Family Services received 220 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect, double the number from 2008. What made this uptick doubly disturbing was that, in 80 percent of the referrals, domestic violence was involved. That means children may have been victimized themselves or at least witnessed physical, sexual or emotional abuse between adults.
That’s right — hundreds of incidents (these are only the cases reported by law enforcement, medical personnel or others), right here in the Roaring Fork Valley, behind the window curtains.
Pitkin County Health and Human Services and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office were sufficiently alarmed about these numbers that they applied for and received a grant from the Board of County Commissioners for a three-year prevention campaign to reduce the impacts of domestic violence on children. The campaign — “Stop Fighting It Hurts” — aims to lessen kids’ exposure to stressful events that could lead to problems later in life. Prolonged exposure to violence in the home can lead to learning difficulties, emotional imbalances, developmental issues and even long-term health problems.
Watch for this campaign in coming months around the valley. Perhaps even more important, please report abuse or neglect if you suspect or experience it. Use Pitkin County’s child and adult protective services hotline: 970-429-2047.
Fortunately, aside from the hotline and the educational campaign, there are local organizations already working on these issues. The River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs calls itself a “one-stop response” to child abuse and neglect; it provides an integrated, multi-disciplinary and child-centered approach to advocate for abused kids, get them out of harm’s way and help them recover.
River Bridge also works with schools and community groups to inform the populace about child-abuse prevention, recognition and reporting. This work, though heart-wrenching, helps make the greater Roaring Fork Valley a better and safer place to live.
Of course, children are not the only ones affected by domestic violence. More often than not, adult women are the targets of abusers’ rage. In our valley, two well-established nonprofit organizations have helped these victims for many years.
Founded in 1983, Aspen-based Response supports the mostly female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the upper Roaring Fork Valley from El Jebel to Aspen. Staff members and volunteers work with law enforcement, schools and other nonprofit organizations to provide free, confidential, nonjudgmental support for more than 500 victims each year.
Because victims of domestic violence are often burdened by low self-esteem, they often see themselves as the cause of the problem. If they’re financially dependent on their abusers, it can be a long and difficult road to recognize the abuse for what it is, leave the abuser and begin anew in a safer place.
The Advocate Safehouse Project was formed in Glenwood Springs in 1987 to meet many of the same needs as Response. It runs the only safehouse in the Colorado and Roaring Fork river valleys for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and 1 of only 10 such safehouses on the Western Slope. In 2013, Advocate Safehouse responded to 2,600 phone calls, worked with 490 clients and provided shelter to 30 families with 40 children for a total of 2,050 nights.
Even if you’ve never suffered physical or sexual abuse or known a victim personally, I hope you’ll agree that these services are vital for any caring, aware community. And like it or not, the numbers tell us that our community still needs these services.
Now for the fun part: It’s easy to support Response and Advocate Safehouse this month, because both are hosting fundraising events. In the case of Response, it’s the annual Chocolate Classic at the Hotel Jerome from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Attendees will sample all kinds of chocolate creations from talented chefs.
In the case of Advocate Safehouse, there’s the Feb. 21 Lunafest at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood, where attendees can watch a series of eight thought-provoking films by, for and about women.
Now go have some fun for a good cause!
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
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In 1895, the fad sweeping Aspen for women was to dye their hair red.