Increasing awareness about abuse and the availability of resources for victims is the best way to curb domestic violence, according to Hospitality House for Women Director Malinda Kogerma.
Hospitality House has provided services to child and adult survivors of domestic abuse since 1978, Kogerma said.
“We are one of the first domestic violence shelters in Georgia,” she said. “We came about through a group of concerned citizens banding together to form the organization. Floyd was on the cutting edge because that was really when domestic violence began to be noticed.”
Hospitality House provides shelter and counseling to victims, but also tries to educate the community through awareness initiatives, including an annual fundraising walk downtown.
“We go out to speak about domestic violence, we sponsor Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” she said. “It is not just about making October awareness month. We want it to bring awareness all year.”
The nonprofit runs a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline at 706-235-4673 that victims can call to get help. It also offers counseling for victims and shelter for them and their children, as well as clothing and the everyday items they need, she added.
“Many women who come to us, they will come with just the clothes on their backs,” she said. “They literally take their children and flee.”
If someone cannot come to the shelter, Kogerma said that workers at Hospitality House help them create a safety plan.
“We tell them to come up with a friend to call, or someone to reach out for help to, or to call us if something happens and they are in fear for their safety,” she explained.
Once someone decides to come to the shelter, they are set up in housing in a safe, secure environment with adequate income.
Kogerma said that sometimes women do return to their abuser.
“If they leave, then decide to go back, and then leave again, they can always come to us again,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how many times. We will still help.”
Licensed counselors work with victims and an advocate will go to court with them if necessary, Kogerma said.
“Floyd County is very good about putting services into place to help people,” she said. “The police, the social services agencies, everyone works together.”
There’s also a family violence intervention program that is state-mandated for batterers who are arrested for domestic violence. “Compassion,” which is the county’s program, is directed by Rex Hussmann.
“It is a 24-week, state-certified program,” Hussmann explained. “Batterers are required, upon conviction of a simple assault under the Family Violence Act, to go through it.”
Hussmann said the program combines education and support to help batterers change behavior.
“It is not therapy,” he said. “The issue cannot be blamed on mental health. Participants are asked to discuss their feelings about power and control and dominance. They are encouraged to stop using anger to frighten and control their partner.”
Hussmann and Kogerma both said they are hoping to develop a coordinated community response team to work together on domestic violence.
Kogerma said the latest statistics show that a woman is beaten every nine seconds in the United States, and that intimate partner violence is the leading cause of female deaths during pregnancy.
“Women who are victims are eight times more likely to be killed by a partner if there are firearms in the house,” she said. “When you see the headlines, it makes you physically sick.”
She said victim-blaming is also a problem.
“There are a lot of reasons women don’t leave,” she said. “Because of children, because of financial reasons and security and fear of what may happen. When a woman tries to leave, that is often the most dangerous time.”
Domestic violence is also the third leading cause of homelessness among families, she added.
“It is an act of power and control,” she said. “When the batterer feels that control is relinquished, it is the most dangerous time. I’ve heard stories of abusers stealing car keys, hiding things, locking victims in their homes. It really does happen.”
She encouraged anyone who needs help to contact the Hospitality House.
“Please let us help you,” she said. “Help is out there for you, please take it.”