Domestic violence 911 calls decrease in Brunswick County, shelter receives influx of calls

Hope Harbor Home in Brunswick County is busier than ever in its work to help people escape domestic violence.
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - After a weekend of domestic violence incidents left one woman dead and another hospitalized, a local domestic violence shelter says they’re getting more calls than ever.

Brunswick County’s domestic violence shelter Hope Harbor Home says they’re not aware if this weekend’s victims ever reached out for help, but hearing their stories has already encouraged others to leave their abusive relationships.

“We had a lady come in Monday based on what happened [over the weekend], saying ‘I need to speak up,’ so she did a restraining order,” said Donna Varnum, the program director of Hope Harbor Home.

Varnum says domestic violence happens more than people think and it isn’t specific to any demographic including race, gender, religion or economic class. It also doesn’t always look the same from person to person.

“There’s verbal abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse emotional abuse,” said Varnum. “Just because they’re not putting their hands on you does not mean that it’s not abuse.”

Hope Harbor Home is busier than ever, helping people escape domestic violence. The agency helps both men and women. Lately, they’ve been taking more calls than usual. In January, they averaged about 30 calls a month. Now, they’re taking about 60.

“I don’t know that there’s an actual reason for the increase. It’s always been there,” said Varnum. “I think more people are confident in coming out and expressing it and letting people know that these things are going on.”

To make sure everyone can get the help they need, all the shelter’s resources are also available in Spanish.

“If someone needs help, if someone is facing problems with domestic violence, please call me,” said Lina Casanova, Hope Harbor Home’s advocate for Hispanic clients. “No matter the county, no matter the state. If you need help, please call me for your protection.”

As the women at Hope Harbor Home have learned, leaving isn’t easy. Much like quitting smoking, it takes a person on average seven attempts before finally leaving. Until then, there are a number of things loved ones can do to help. You may be surprised to find that telling them to leave isn’t one of them.

“Make sure that person knows that you’re there for them no matter what,” said Varnum. “Get a calendar. Anytime you see anything -- if you see a bruise on her -- document it on that day on the calendar because eventually, when she does get out, you’re going to be the big key witness.”

Things you may want to document are injuries, calling out of work and stories the victim shares with you. Varnum says you may want to try to take photos of any injuries to further document the abuse. Varnum also recommends keeping track of specific things an abuser says, including threats and name-calling, to potentially use in a future trial.

Someone in an abusive relationship may be in denial about the abuse they are experiencing, making excuses for the abuser and saying that they the victim can do better or change their significant other.

When someone is ready to leave, every case is different. A common place to start is a restraining order, as that can lead to real change.

“The ultimate goal is to get them out of the situation and to get them stable with their own home, their own job, their own car with their own lives,” said Varnum.

That progress can take anywhere from three weeks to several years. Throughout the process, they help survivors through a number of resources.

“We have an empowerment group. We used to have one-on-one counseling, we do refer it out. We have a shelter. We have advocates that work one-on-one with clients,” said Varnum. “We bring in our financial people so we try to do budgeting. We try to do safety.”

Although the number of people reaching out for help seems to be up, calls to 911 about domestic violence are down in Brunswick County. The sheriff’s office says domestic violence calls dropped by 11.9 percent from 2020 to 2021. This year, they’re projected to drop by another 17 percent.

Hope Harbor Home’s 24-hour crisis hotline is 910-754-5856. The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 800-799-7233.