By Kelly Hawkins
One in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which is staggering. Domestic violence often is stigmatized and misunderstood, resulting in fear of coming forward for those affected and in most need of help from community programs and services.
By raising awareness and providing education across demographics in diverse communities, lives can be saved — and future violence can be prevented.
The Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence is doing just that and has been providing comprehensive services and programs for individuals, families and children for 44 years. The Center started as a simple, volunteer-run domestic violence shelter operating out of the back of a church in Biloxi and has grown over the past four decades into the largest organization of its kind in Mississippi, serving victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide and human trafficking.
The Center is intimately acquainted with the challenges and barriers victims face as they seek safety, stability and justice, which is why the programs available on the Gulf Coast use a comprehensive approach in addressing not only a family’s immediate safety through shelter, but also their financial literacy, housing options, access to legal services, access to medical care and essential mental health services.
The Center operates two emergency domestic violence shelters in south Mississippi – one in Biloxi, and one in Pascagoula. The agency’s Pascagoula shelter is called Adrienne’s House, and it has been in operation since 2011; we’re proud to be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
In addition to emergency shelter, survivors need support services to help them through their recovery and regaining their independence and autonomy. That’s why the Center offers case management services; individual and group counseling; a children’s program that features a therapeutic preschool; a legal clinic offering free civil legal services; rapid rehousing, transitional, and transitional to permanent housing programs; life skills classes; parenting classes; nonresidential services; sexual assault program services, including hospital response and crisis intervention; survivors of homicide program services; and human trafficking program services.
The Center also offers an outreach education program that provides violence prevention education, as well as interpersonal violence dynamics awareness trainings to community members, specialized professionals, children, teenagers and young adults.
During the time the Center has been operating on the Gulf Coast, we’ve seen that this comprehensive approach to providing necessary services is essential for our clients to not only succeed in leaving a violent relationship, but to thrive in a violence-free life after re-establishing their independence and empowering themselves to meet any challenge they may find in the future.
If you or someone you know is in or has been in an abusive relationship, has experienced sexual assault or lost a loved one to homicide, please call the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence at (800) 800- 1396. You are not alone. It’s not your fault. And we are here to help.
Kelly Hawkins is resource development director with the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence.