Incidents in area increase; awareness effort begins
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — As the country marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the 313 incidents to which police have been called in the city so far this year is running ahead of the pace set a year ago when officers responded to 330 calls for assistance, undertook 180 investigations and made 57 arrests.
Likewise, Kathy Keller, executive director of New Beginnings, a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing services and support for victims of domestic and sexual violence, said that domestic abuse and violence has risen steadily during her 20 years with the agency. Last year, New Beginnings served 927 clients, including 114 children, with 10,094 specific services and sheltered 48 victims of domestic violence. Although women are the victims in the vast majority of cases, Keller said "we do see some men as well."
Keller said that the police, after making what she called "a lethality assessment" to measure the threat to life and limb, call the agency to assist with serious cases, but added "We also see what the police never see." Apart from '"the classic cases," she said that victims of emotional and mental abuse as well as those isolated from their families and others, subjected to harsh controls and bullying and financial deprivation or exploitation may also turn to New Beginnings.
New Beginnings operates a 24-hour "crisis line" 365 days a year, together with an emergency shelter with capacity for up to 15 people with private rooms for single women and families, and round-the-clock access to trained personnel. Local hospitals call the agency to meet victims of sexual assault at the emergency room to offer support and counsel, including advice abut their legal options. If necessary the staff is prepared to shepherd victims through the process of securing restraining and protective orders.
Keller emphasized that all services are protected by confidentiality and the agency respects the right of its clients to deny or request any services. "We talk about the pros and cons of the options people have, with a stress on personal safety," Keller said. "We are about bringing those involved in crisis to make their own choices, to help them find their own voice, to empower them." She acknowledged that domestic violence is a stubborn problem, noting that relatively few severe cases are easily resolved. On average, she said, victims of domestic violence seek help nine times before terminating an abusive relationship.
"We're not seeing a lot of reduction in family violence," Keller repeated. Instead, she said, the increase in substance abuse, particularly opiate addiction, "has compounded the work we do." She said that frequently domestic strife is accompanied by co-occurring issues of substance abuse, mental illness and financial stress, and often all three. New Beginnings maintains partnership with the other social service organizations in the region as well as with the state agencies, especially the Division of Children, Youth and Families, its 12 "sister agencies" in the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic Violence that operate throughout the state.
New Beginnings operates with six staff members and what Keller described as "a large pool of trained volunteers," who together provided more than 23,000 hours of service to the agency last year. The agency's $320,000 annual budget is primarily funded by the state and federal governments and supplemented with private donations.
The team of New Beginnings, who support and serve victims of domestic violence, are, from left, first row: Emily, Jen and Page; second row: AliciaAlec, Executive Director; Kathy Keller and Erin; top row: Linda and Shauna. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)