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Advocate reassures: 'Call us for help'



Published: Wed, October 25, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The speaker said victims should make preparations before leaving.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- At an annual candlelight vigil in the Mahoning County Courthouse rotunda, an advocate for domestic violence victims urged those suffering from abusive relationships to seek professional help.

"We're urging them to get help -- to call us for help to get away from the situation," said Constance Collins, a licensed social worker and case manager at the Sojourner House domestic violence shelter, who described herself as a survivor of domestic violence.

"To end the abuse, you have to end the relationship. Most relationships aren't reconcilable when there's physical and emotional abuse," Collins said Tuesday, urging victims to give top priority to protecting their children.

"There is a way out, and that is why Sojourner House is here," Collins said at the vigil, which was attended by about 40 people, including domestic violence survivors and mental health professionals. The annual event is part of the observance of October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Array of services

Sojourner House offers a wide array of services, including a 24-hour crisis line at (330) 747-4040, a shelter for victims and their children at a confidential location, free counseling, a judicial advocate, a child specialist and support groups.

"No one has to go it alone. ...They're never going to have to walk through the court system alone," Collins said. "We'll be their friend. We'll be their encourager. We will try to educate to prevent ongoing domestic abuse."

Sojourner House, a program of the Burdman Group, has served more than 1,500 women and nearly 2,500 children since its founding in September 1991.

Matha Katz, a licensed mental health counselor and a member of the Burdman Group board of directors, said domestic violence victims need to prepare in advance if they decide to leave an abusive relationship.

"If they want to leave, we can help them with safety planning," Katz said. "Most women leave their abuser seven times before they finally get out. It's often because they leave impulsively without their kids' papers, without any idea of how they're going to support themselves [financially]," she added.

Getting ready

Such preparations include duplicating house and car keys, memorizing names and phone numbers of people who can help in an emergency, making emergency housing arrangements, copying financial and children's immunization records, and establishing a post office box to avoid having the abuser see and open confidential correspondence, Katz said.

"The women who are most successful at leaving are the ones who've planned it beforehand," Katz added.




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