CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – WBOY is holding a donation drive to benefit HOPE, Inc., a local domestic violence shelter, as part of our annual Founder’s Day of Caring. Viewers can donate items from HOPE’s wishlist to Little General stores in Morgantown, Fairmont, Farmington, Clarksburg, Weston, Grafton or Flatwoods until June 17, 2021.
To learn more about the work HOPE does and what items they need, we interviewed Kim Nicholson, Outreach Coordinator, HOPE, Inc.
Q: What are some of the services that hope offers?
A: Hope offers a very wide variety of services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking. We offer court accompaniment, criminal and civil. We offer hospital advocacy. We have a shelter in Marion county. We offer housing. We have a housing program for victims who come to the shelter [and] need to move on to their own home. We have funds that can help them to do that. We give them clothing, take them into medical care. We do transportation. Anything that the victim needs in order to get through what she’s been through and make it out the other side and have a better life, we will try to provide that for them.
We have free counseling. We have a counselor in outreach and a counselor in our shelter facility. So, we have an advocate for pretty much everything. We have children case manager. We have sexual assault advocates. We have domestic violence advocates. We have a DV (domestic violence) specialist that works with CPS, so we have a wide variety of things that we do to help that victim.
Q: So if somebody is struggling and needs your help, how can they ask for help?
A: We have a 24 hour hotline and that number is 304-367-1100. You can call any of the outreach offices. We also do a lot of community awareness if a victim presents at the Magistrates Office [or] if they present at the hospital. We do community awareness so the community will know that we’re here, and that community organization will refer that victim to us so we can start services with them and help them through whatever it is they need.
And, once your client of HOPE’s, you’re always a client of HOPE’s, so we’re going to stay there with you. We’re going to help you through it.
Q: Have you seen an uptick in domestic violence cases with COVID?
A: Yes we did. We knew that when the lockdown started that that was going to happen. So, at that time, we had to switch gears, and all of the staff had to do 12 hour shifts at the shelter. So, we had the shelter clients who were [already] there, of course, so then we utilized hotels and we offered the same services that we had at the shelter to those that we had to put in hotels. So yes, there was a significant increase in victims coming forward for our services.
Q: Now that we’re kind of coming out of the pandemic a little bit, is there an aftermath that you guys are dealing with or anything like that?
A: It’s sad to say that it never stops. You know, it’s happening every day, so we are still utilizing hotels. We have a pretty full shelter at this point. Normally, before COVID, we would see certain times of the year–during the holidays, during the summer months–that there would be an uptick in people coming forward.
It doesn’t seem to have slowed down since COVID, it just has remained. It became pretty crazy at a couple points, but it has remained about the same.
Q: What is it about COVID that is causing this uptick?
A: Well, when you have a lockdown situation, if you’re already in an abusive situation at home, and that lockdown happens, that’s going to intensify. Tempers are flaring. There’s stress. You can’t get out. You know, especially if there’s a job loss. There’s no separation there, so you’re stuck with that abuser. So of course, that’s going to escalate.
In homes where there was potential for abuse, it’s going to escalate, and that’s what you see. And like I said, when this first started, when this was first announced, we knew what was going to happen, and in the first two weeks, it wasn’t really bad. But, when it hit, it hit, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed down.
Q: Is that because COVID might prevent people from seeking help, and now that things are starting to loosen up, they are coming to you now instead of earlier?
A: That can happen also because when a victim is stuck with their abuser, a lot of times they’re in too much fear too to try to reach out. So once that is relaxed a little bit, if the abusers out of the house, then you can see that that’ll be the time they try. On average a woman leaves 7 times before she actually leaves this situation. That’s just the average.
So, [in] pretty much any situation, we always have to be thinking about what causes that victim to be fearful because it may not be the same thing for every victim. You know, the abuser may have a word or a phrase that they say that would seem innocent to everybody else, but to that victim, they know what it means.
So it’s a case by case. Every abuser escalates, and they will do things so similar to their victims. But every victim knows when to be more fearful. They know when something bad is coming.
Q: So along those same lines, how helpful are donations?
A: If we have a client who’s fleeing, a lot of times, they’re fleeing with nothing. They’re taking themselves, their children, and they’re running. We get them into the shelter, [and] they have nothing, so we provide them clothing. We provide them all of their personal care items. Of course we have to have cleaning supplies for the shelter. We have to have non perishable food, you know, we feed the residents. If we have clients in hotels, of course we have to provide them with all these same services. Services are the same if they’re in a hotel.
We just provide them everything that they need. If there’s a conflict that we can’t transport, we provide them bus tickets. We have to purchase their medications if they don’t have insurance, so there’s many things that we do with donations. In the outreach counties, it’s the same.
You may have somebody who is coming in and may decide not to go to shelter, but they need food or they need personal care items at home. We’re going to work with you whether you decide to leave or not. You come to us, we’re going to be here when you’re ready. But we can let you know about our services and how we can help you to escape that situation.
Q: I know that it’s all pretty important, but are there any types of donations that are particularly useful?
A: Well, I’m going to tell you because of COVID, cleaning supplies have become a must for us. Of course, we’ve had to keep things disinfected. We’ve really gone through the cleaning supplies. Paper products are always a big thing for us. We are in constant need of paper products and right now. That is something that we are in great need of.
Make up. You know, the things that you don’t normally think about. Makeup, hair care products, all kinds of personal hygiene.
When it comes to clothing, during COVID, people did a lot of cleaning out of their closets, so we got an abundance of clothing. We got a whole lot of clothing, so we fix a packet up for the client and the children when they come in with a new little sweat outfit or something that they can put on to have something new on. All of that is always very much appreciated. You know, a new little set of pajamas for kids and shoes.
Shoes are always a big thing, too. A lot of times, they’ll come with no shoes. So, that’s always a big thing too, and I don’t think that right now we have a lot of like flip flops or sandals–things that they can just slide on and go. That seems to be the thing in the summer. So when we get to the winter, of course, we always need winter coats in the winter time.
We always can use blankets. We can always use sheets, pillows, you know stuff like that.
Q: What are some of the signs of abuse?
A: Controlling behavior is always [one and it’s] under the guise of love. Keeping that person from their family. You know, separating them from their loved ones so they can have that control over them completely without anybody interfering.
Financial abuse. Keeping control of all of the money you know, only letting that person have so much money and having to count for what they do spend, spend mileage on the car, checking the mileage on the car to see how far you’ve gone, tracking their phone, keeping their phone, taking their phone from them.
We always tell victims, if they are going to plan to leave, that they need to put aside their important documents–Social Security cards, driver’s license, kids birth certificates–because that is usually one of the first things an abuser will go for to destroy. So, when you leave the home, it’s hard to do anything without those identifying documents a lot of times, so having that in a safe place is very important.
Keeping an extra set of car keys somewhere is very important. Keeping a cell phone on you at all times is very important. Of course, then the controlling behavior will escalate to hitting, and a lot of times it’s just emotional and verbal abuse where they’re so verbally abusive and it tears the victim’s self-confidence down so badly that they don’t think they’re worth anything.
And we can help with that. We’ve helped rebuild that self-worth and for them to know that they aren’t that person that their abuser says they are. But when you have systematic abuse over years, it’s a struggle and it is something that takes time and proper counseling to get through.
You’ll see a lot of domestic violence victims with PTSD because they don’t know what’s coming and when it’s coming. They will escalate a lot of times to strangulation, which is now a felony in West Virginia. Usually if they elevate to strangulation, they’re capable of murder.
We have a lethality assessment that we use that we can kind of go through that with the victim when we get to meet with them, and a lot of times it’s very surprising for the victim once they go through that lethality assessment because they didn’t realize that they were in as much danger as what they actually were. So, it rates the level of dangerousness of that abuser by the actions that they’ve committed against the victim.
Q: Wow, yeah because they probably just think, oh it’s just insert-name-here.
A: That’s just how he is. Or that’s just what he does. You can justify it a lot of ways when you’re living in that situation, it’s very easy to try to justify it. But it always escalates. It doesn’t get better. It may take years, it may take days, it may take months, but it always escalates.
Q: Would you happen to know on hand how often it is that these situations do end up being lethal?
A: That would be hard for me to say. It happens, as you well know. It happens here, as you well know, but it’s hard for me to give that statistic sitting here. A lot of times when it gets to that point, that somebody knows, “Hey, he may kill me or she may kill me,” they’ll try to escape.
Sometimes they go back because, you know, abusers are manipulative. They are very good at being charismatic and telling that victim what they want to hear in order to gain back the control that they need, and we always explain to the victim–because they’re torn [and] their self-esteem is torn down so badly–that it’s not something that’s broken in them. It’s something that’s broken in the abuser. And it really has nothing to do with them, they’re just the target.
Q: As the pandemic progressed, did you notice a ramp up of situations because people spent more time together? Did it ever peak? And has it started to come down?
A: Well, we thought that it would probably peak at some point, and to a certain extent it did. I mean for us, having the shelter full, it happens…but it seems like in the last week or two, we’ve had more coming forward.
And like I said, besides COVID, a lot of times you can almost predict the time of year. Like I said, during the holidays, usually in the hottest month of the year July, you’ll see an uptick, and it’s odd how that works, but if you think about it, it’s really not. When you’re in the hottest seasons of the year, people are irritable from the heat, things kind of ramp up. During the holidays, people are stressed…it’s no excuse, but that just seems to be when things ramp up.
So to a certain extent we did see it kind of drop off some, but it’s not going to drop off to the extent that it’s going to make [a difference], especially, I believe, this year.
HOPE, Inc.’s 24 hour hotline: 304-367-1100
HOPE, Inc.’s outreach offices’ phone numbers: