Members of the local Sexual Assault Family Violence Task Force (SAFV), Soroptimist Club and Victim’s Advocates stand by as Mayor Joy Bell signs a proclomation last Thursday, Oct. 3, declaring October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Pictured are: Steve Aaron, Leisa Reiter, Monica Vozakis, Linda Cummings, Becky Crum, Cathy Seale, Deborah Demander, Mary Vitale, Crystalynn Isherwood, Teresa Odell, Elissa Wilson and Mayor Joy Bell (seated). (HERALD PHOTO/Ed Close)
EVANSTON — The annual candlelight vigils in honor of victims of domestic violence will be held next week and the next in Evanston and Lyman.
Each year, Evanston, Lyman and Mountain View officials sign a proclamation designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
And raising awareness is crucial, Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SAFV) Task Force Director Linda Cummings said.
“It’s an awareness campaign so people will be more vigilant about it,” she said.
“[Domestic violence] is so generational and it’s terrible that it doesn’t stop,” Cummings said. “That’s the thing that I see … if your mother was abused by your father, then you will more than likely find someone that’s going to abuse you, which is sad.”
Cummings began as a volunteer for SAFV 20 years ago and has spent the last seven years as its director.
Evanston’s vigil will be next Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Bear Ponds at 6 p.m.
The vigil in Lyman will be the following week, Thursday, Oct. 24, at 6 p.m. at the Lyman fire hall. A complimentary dinner will be served at both vigils.
Cummings said she’s noticed a frightening trend in domestic violence over the last two decades.
“It is increasing,” she said.
But programs like SAFV offer help and support to victims.
“As a grass roots program in the ‘90s, [SAFV] really started taking off,” Cummings said.
SAFV offers free training to the community and schools. The organization also holds group support meetings for victims of domestic violence, helping them realize they can live a better life without the abuser.
“Women stay with their offender because they can’t afford to leave them,” Cummings said. “They have children and they don’t make enough money to survive on.”
SAFV helps those victims experiencing financial hardship. The organization houses many victims of domestic violence.
“Our shelter is full right now,” Cummings said.
But that doesn’t mean victims still can’t seek help. Cummings said they can double-up on rooms at times and even put victims in hotel rooms when the shelter is at capacity.
Cummings said times have changed and law enforcement is better trained now to handle domestic violence calls.
“I remember as a young person, if you were in a violent relationship you just dealt with it … It used to be that when you called the police both of you were arrested,” she said.
Officers are now trained specifically on domestic violence calls and arrest only the offenders, Cummings said.
SAFV works closely with law enforcement, the county attorney and others in the community to help victims.
Uinta County Attorney Dean Stout said domestic violence has been an ongoing problem since he’s been a prosecutor in Evanston.
“I think domestic violence is overall steady for as long as I have been here,” Stout said. “You’re looking at an average between two and three incidents a week.”
Stout said support groups, such as the one offered by SAFV, empower victims and helps them realize they are more than just a victim.
“I do know that when victims feel safe and feel they have a voice in what’s going on, it’s usually better,” he said. “Any support group or counseling they can get that allows them to have a voice, that’s a plus.”
Support groups can also help victims who are intimidated by their abuser and afraid to cooperate with any prosecution the abuser may be facing.
But Stout said he’s had to rely less and less on victim cooperation, thanks to great effort from police officers.
“Law enforcement has gotten better at this,” he said. “We have really tried to encourage and have seen improvement in treating domestic violence cases in ways that evidence is gathered, and it doesn’t rely so heavily on the victim’s statement.
“Sometimes it’s said ‘you treat them like a murder’ — you don’t have a victim statement.”
With better evidence gathering, including taking more photographs at crime scenes, Stout said there have been fewer cases dismissed due to non-cooperation. But, he added, prosecutors do seek input from the victim when determining what charges should be filed against the offender.
If you are a victim of or witness to domestic violence, there are several ways to get help. Call SAFV at (307) 789-3628 (in Evanston) or (307) 787-6899 (in the Bridger Valley), Lisa Reiter at the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office at (307) 783-1037, Vanessa Weekly at the Evanston Police Department at (307) 783-6406 or Steve Aaron at the Uinta County Attorney’s Office at (307) 783-0550.