An intervention programme empowers citizens to step in to stop domestic violence

  • Living
  • Sunday, 15 Oct 2023

(From left) Runyon and Gloria Collins speak to Keana Brown about Green Dot during Winburn Public Safety Day at the Community Action Council Center in Lexington, Kentucky. — Photos: OLIVIA ANDERSON/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS

AS A CHILD growing up in a home with domestic violence, Dawn Runyon remembers “Hefty bagging” and “hopping on the Greyhound” whenever it was time for her and her mother to run for safety.

“In the blink of an eye, everything that I knew was turned upside down,” she said. “I was raised with that just being normal.”

When Runyon was 18, she got married, and the cycle of intimate partner violence would have continued, she said, had it not been for a woman who saw what was going on and stepped in.

“That one moment in time changed my life,” Runyon said. “She was a person who saw my situation and decided to choose safety for me.”

Now, as coordinator of Lexington’s Green Dot programme, Runyon’s job is to teach others, like the woman who intervened in her situation, how they can help prevent domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking.

“I want people in our community to be empowered to step in,” she said in a recent training session.

The free bystander awareness intervention training conducted by Runyon is one of the ways Lexington is tackling the problem of intimate partner violence.

“Kentucky, unfortunately, is between one and three on the national rates of violence when it comes to child abuse, stalking and domestic violence,” Runyon said.

In each of the past three years, the Lexington Police Department has handled more than 2,500 reports of domestic violence and made more than 700 arrests in those incidents, according to police department data.

The Green Dot programme, which was developed at the University of Kentucky and is now used throughout the country, provides free training to help people learn how to safely intervene to prevent behaviour associated with domestic and sexual violence, as well as child and elder abuse.

The city’s training is available to any Lexington resident ages 18 and up, and Runyon is particularly eager to reach minority and immigrant populations. She regularly hosts training sessions for individual community members, and she also works with organisations that might have close connections with domestic violence victims, such as churches, social services organisations, barbershops and beauty salons.

“People around you are experiencing this sort of violence,” Runyon told attendees in a recent session. “There’s going to have to be a cultural change in our community.”

In her training sessions, Runyon helps people understand what signs of abuse might look like, and she runs through real-world scenarios where participants brainstorm ways they might be able to step in to intervene.

The city’s Green Dot programme is paid for through a grant from the federal Victims of Crime Act, along with matching money from the city.

It’s been operating this way for five or six years now, said Stephanie Theakston, programme coordinator for Lexington’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, who oversees the programme. But funding is a never-ending concern, Theakston said.

Money dwindles as protective orders increase

The city must re-apply for the Victims of Crime Act grant annually, and for the past few years, the federal money has been cut a little more each time, she said.

Two years ago, she said, the programme had to eliminate a full-time employee who worked with Green Dot focusing on non-English-speaking populations, including immigrants and refugees.

“Last year, our funding was cut again, and we had to move Dawn from full-time to part-time,” Theakston said.

She said it’s not just Green Dot feeling the pinch. Victims of Crime Act funding for victim’s advocates who work in prosecuting attorneys’ offices has shrunk too.

At the same time, Theakston said, “the number of protective orders that are filed in Fayette County is just constantly increasing.”

While the federal portion of Green Dot funding has grown smaller, Theakston said the city’s funding for Green Dot has remained the same.

“Their contribution to the grant was based on a percentage of the grant funds the first year we had the grant,” Theakston said in an email. “However, once our grant award was cut, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) didn’t reduce their ‘match.’ They continued to contribute the original amount instead of making it a percentage of the much lower grant funds awarded. Keeping that amount the same has allowed us to continue Green Dot and provide housing assistance.”

Theakston said the city received US$41,000 (RM192,000) in Victims of Crime Act funding last year, and the city contributes about US$50,000 (RM234,000).

“At this point, they’re giving more to the programme than what the grant is,” she said.

She said the money is split between Green Dot and providing safe housing for survivors. She hopes survivors of domestic violence take comfort in knowing the city supports them.

“The city has increased their financial and general support for domestic violence prevention,” Theakston said. “People care. They’re recognising the need.”

Pins, candy and pens adorn the Green Dot booth during Winburn Public Safety Day.Pins, candy and pens adorn the Green Dot booth during Winburn Public Safety Day.

Addressing societal problems

Green Dot was created at UK and launched in 2006 by former UK researcher Dorothy Edwards. It soon was being offered on other college campuses and in high schools.

Later, Green Dot morphed into a nonprofit organisation with an expanded mission and moved its headquarters to Washington, DC. The umbrella organisation Green Dot is part of is now known as Alteristic, and Green Dot’s prevention strategy has been applied to other societal problems, including suicide, harassment and bullying, across many age groups and geographic areas.

Diane Fleet, associate director of GreenHouse17, which provides shelter and support to victims of intimate partner abuse, serves on Alteristic’s national board.

Fleet was around when Edwards started the programme, and she remembers the excitement years later, when data showed that sexual violence declined in high schools where students were taught about Green Dot.

She said “it’s a real disservice to the city” that the Green Dot programme has struggled to maintain momentum, and she said she thinks it should be elevated as much as One Lexington, the city’s gun violence prevention effort for young people.

“They work so much in tandem,” Fleet said. “I think they need the same type of resources.”

She noted the city has put additional money and effort into addressing intimate partner violence with the mayor’s “It’s Time” initiative.

“I do think we’re bringing Green Dot along with that conversation,” Fleet said.

So, what does the city need? More involvement, for one thing, said Runyon, Fleet and others. “It takes nurses and neighbours and soccer coaches,” Fleet said. “It just takes a community to discuss this.”

At Rosa Parks Elementary, teachers and staff members are doing their part. This spring, the school became a Green Dot Spot after 15% of the school’s staff and leadership completed the training.

Runyon said 11 organisations, including banks, churches, social service agencies and a retailer, have been certified as Green Dot Spots.

Aaron Dowdell, a mental health specialist at Rosa Parks, said a staff member at the school was involved in a domestic violence-related incident in December, and that had a big impact on the staff.

“It was someone we had all gotten close to,” said Principal Claudine Barrow. “I feel like we might have missed some signs.”

Barrow said she had some feelings of guilt and wondered, “what if I could have helped prevent this?”

Dowdell had completed Green Dot training years ago, and when he ran into Runyon at a resource fair, he said he thought Green Dot training for the staff might be a good idea.

Barrow said the school had no trouble getting staff members to sign up, and almost 50% took the training. She said she thinks other schools should consider offering the free training too.

“It makes us feel a little bit more powerful in a solution,” she said.

The school proudly displays Green Dot Spot stickers on the front doors.

“Every time we see that as a community here, it’s a reminder for us,” Dowdell said.

Barrow said it also serves as a beacon to anyone coming in. “They know this is a safe place,” she said. “We’re serious about it. We’re going to take a stand.” – Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service/Karla Ward

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