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School researchers to assess services for survivors of domestic violence

Although safety and support services that address domestic violence are currently being offered in Orange County, are those resources meeting the needs of survivors? Over the next several months, a team that includes UNC School of Social Work researchers, local nonprofit groups and UNC Hospitals hope to answer that question.

L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Professor Rebecca Macy and Assistant Professor Cynthia Fraga Rizo are partnering with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC), the Compass Center for Women and Families, and UNC Hospitals’ Beacon Program to evaluate the county’s efforts to tackle domestic violence and to explore possible solutions to unmet needs.

The initiative, which is being funded with support from local philanthropists Richardson Preyer, a member of the School of Social Work’s Board of Advisors, and his wife, Marilyn Jacobs Preyer, will assess the county’s strengths and explore potentially new resources and programs, including the feasibility and support for a shelter service for families who are in immediate danger, Macy said. Orange County does not currently have such a shelter, though its challenges with domestic violence are similar to what many other communities face, including those that have established emergency shelters, the researchers said.

In fact, statistically, the picture of domestic violence looks fairly similar across the state and country. A recent national survey found that about 44 percent of women and 19 percent of men in North Carolina experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a current or former intimate partner at some point in their lives, the researchers reported. Moreover, 21 percent of all homicides committed in the state in 2014 were related to domestic violence, while half of all the homicides involving women were also linked to violent abuse within the home.

Locally, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center works with more than 500 survivors annually, while the UNC Hospitals’ Beacon Program has worked with more than 1,300 adult and child victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child maltreatment in each of the past two years, Macy and Fraga reported.

“We know that children who live in families with domestic violence face significant risk of injury, maltreatment, and trauma-related disorders,” Macy said. “National research shows that child maltreatment occurs in up to two-thirds of families with domestic violence, and that nearly one of every 10 children witness domestic violence in their homes every year. North Carolina’s rates of domestic violence and child exposure to this violence are, unfortunately, consistent with the national average. For all these reasons, domestic violence is a considerable problem for our own communities.”

In addition to the human costs of intimate partner violence, the country’s financial expense amounts to more than $5.8 billion annually, most of which goes directly to medical and mental health care services to survivors and family members, while nearly $1 billion is lost work productivity.

Given the growing attention to the issue of domestic violence across the country, officials should ensure that necessary services are in place locally to help survivors and their children, Macy said.

“I’m especially excited about this needs assessment project because our community partners—the Beacon Program, the Compass Center and OCRCC—have helped our research team to plan the study’s activities,” she said. “Help from these partners will ensure that the project’s findings are meaningful for our community.”

The research team will spend the next several months conducting interviews, surveying, and hosting focus groups with professionals and community agencies that work directly with survivors of domestic violence, including law enforcement, school officials and faith-based leaders, as well as survivors themselves. Moreover, the team will examine existing violence-related data and the literature to identify innovative solutions.

A final report with recommendations for enhancing Orange County’s domestic violence services and response should be ready in early 2017, Macy said.