Center for Violence-Free Relationships
● By Style
Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
Domestic violence statistics are alarming: One in four women in the U.S. is a victim sometime in her life.
Even more chilling, a woman is raped every two minutes, and one in three girls are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
The Center for Violence-Free Relationships, a Placerville nonprofit whose Web site reports this data, has been helping victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault for more than 30 years. The organization has one ultimate goal, says Executive Director Matt Huckabay: Wipe out domestic violence entirely.
With a budget of $1 million a year, primarily from grants and donations, the Center has aided more than 23,000 victims in El Dorado County since 1980. Its long list of services, nearly all free, includes a 24-hour help line, safe house, support groups, counseling and prevention. The victim is helped to leave her abusive relationship and build a new life, if necessary, while the abuser is offered programs to learn non-violent behavior. “Sexual assault isn’t about sex,” Huckabay says. “It’s about power.”
Clients rarely contact the Center on their own—concerned friends or family members refer most. “Abuse starts subtly,” Huckabay says. “Often the victim doesn’t understand she’s being abused.” Easy-to-dismiss warnings include always having to acquiesce to the abuser, compromise or be excluded from decision-making. These early behaviors frequently accelerate to name calling, shoving, pushing and much worse.
Children in a violent home are often victims, too. “When mothers are being abused, more likely than not so are the children,” Huckabay says. The child living in a toxic environment, with one abusive parent and the other trying to survive, doesn’t have many options for help. “They come to us with post-traumatic stress syndrome, just like our soldiers have,” Huckabay says.
The shelter employs a variety of programs, such as art, physical activities and storytelling, to help these youngsters resolve their experiences, but an important part of the healing process is meeting other children from similar homes. “For these kids, abuse is their norm,” Huckabay says. “They have no idea everybody doesn’t live that way.”
The Center also promotes prevention, especially in middle and high schools, where volunteers visit classrooms to help students learn empathy and communication skills, establish healthy boundaries and accept their own needs as valid. “We teach them that depictions of hyper-masculinity they see are not the norm,” Huckabay says. “In reality, it’s OK for men to talk about their feelings, show compassion [and] be respectful.”
Amid the concerns, there is a bright side, too. “We get to see the results,” Huckabay says. “Women, for example, who come in battered, with nothing, and a few months later are vibrant, strong and empowered.”
To help raise awareness about sexual abuse, the center will hold a Walk a Mile in Her Shoes community march on May 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the free walk will begin at Placerville Town Hall. Men who are game will strut their mile in high heels, and everyone is welcome.
For more information, visit thecenternow.org.