- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Denise McCain, executive director of the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County. Last year, the center served more than 1,200 clients and received 5,600 calls on its crisis hot line.

Question: Recent news accounts have focused on domestic violence, specifically the murder of Ernestine Dyson by her estranged husband, who then committed suicide. Did Mrs. Dyson’s murder, which occurred in Prince George’s County in March, get the attention of county officials and law enforcement?

Answer: Elected county and state officials recognize this was a situation that did not have to happen, and that their systems are not designed to protect the victim. First and foremost, I applaud county elected officials for taking the issue very seriously because they could have ignored it. Instead, they owned up to the fact and acknowledged that they need to assess their process and go back and look at policies and procedures to make sure that incidents such as this do not happen again — that a person won’t lose their life because of a system failure.

However, I think an unfortunate tragedy had to occur and two people had to die before anyone was willing to look at the system. Domestic violence is a crime that has not been taken seriously by the courts and specifically by law enforcement.

Q: What services does the Family Crisis Center offer women and children living in Prince George’s County?

A: Well, we evolved from just providing emergency shelter to management and implementation of eight core program components designed to address the needs of the entire family. We have the Safe Passage program, which offers shelter and a safe environment to women who have been threatened, are in fear of their life and have no place to go. When a woman is at the shelter, it’s so much more than refuge; they receive counseling and therapy. So many do not have the life skills necessary to break the cycle of abuse and empower themselves. We work with them to accomplish those goals.

We also have the Family Violence Intervention Clinic, a program for nonresidential clients that serves women, children and the perpetrators. We provide intensive individual and group therapy sessions designed to assess and provide treatment to ultimately end abuse in intimate relationships.

Women can take advantage of individual counseling or group counseling, if they chose. And we do the same for children and perpetrators. Most of the perpetrators who attend — I would say 99 percent — are here because they are court ordered, not because they recognize they have a problem and want to get help. The court has mandated they attend. I might add, all of our services are offered in both English and Spanish to accommodate the communities we serve.

The third component of our program is our 24-hour crisis-intervention hot line (866/DVCRISIS, or 866/382-7474). That’s really the first point of contact for all services offered through the agency, and it’s 24-7. Counselors are in the shelter and provide immediate access to counseling and offer guidance. They’re trained to answer questions and offer prudent options for callers who are under immediate threat of violence. We have a legal advocacy program with a staff attorney and a bilingual advocate who will assist victims by giving them civil legal advice, representation and accompany them to court.

Q: What are some of the signs women should be aware of regarding partners who may be abusive?

A: There are some very obvious signs for people who understand the issue of domestic abuse, but the signs are not so obvious for the victims. To begin with, perpetrators are very, very manipulative and controlling. They are known to have “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personalities. When they are pursuing a partner, they are Prince Charming, but that’s to get the person under their spell. Suddenly, very subtle things begin to change. A person who does not recognize what is going on may think, “This man loves me so much because he has to know where I am every minute, who I’m talking to and when I will be home.” That is not love, that’s control. Perpetrators see the women as their possessions — they control them — and that makes them feel powerful. If the perpetrator ever feels as if they are losing control, that is when the victim is in most danger of violence.

Interestingly enough, I recently received a study from the National Domestic Violence Hot Line — summer 2003 edition — which states that one in six pregnant women reported physical or sexual abuse during their pregnancies. In a case like this, the perpetrator feels he is losing control over his possession — the partner and her body. They feel threatened by the changes brought on by the pregnancy. Less attention will be paid to them.

Another characteristic trait of abusers is they demean and belittle women. They tell the victims that they are fat, stupid, ugly and nobody would want them. Sadly, women buy into it — that’s the emotional part of abuse. They also isolate their victims. That’s a biggie. Perpetrators don’t like family members, they don’t like friends. They want to keep the person isolated so no one knows what’s going on, and no one seeks them out to give the victim any help. Relationships that were intact have deteriorated and are no longer viable. They also, in some cases, want to control the finances even if the women makes the money. Whenever any of these things don’t comport to what the perpetrator thinks should be happening, the violence begins. Then the women are blamed and they begin to believe they’re responsible.

Q: What does the Family Crisis Center need at this time?

A: Many times women who come to the shelter do not have income and are completely dependent on us for everything. When you think of the essentials for a woman and her children, those are the items that we have to constantly replenish. We could always use bed linen, pillowcases and comforters for single beds. Soap, deodorants, lotions, shampoo, combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste, all sizes of house slippers, socks and knee highs. Pampers, infant clothing, blankets, coloring books, board games, puzzles or gift certificates.

Q: Has the organization planned any events for the summer months to raise funds?

A: Well, we’re gearing up for our Third Annual Golf Classic, “Tee Off Against Domestic Violence,” on Friday, July 18 at the Patuxent Greens Country Club in Laurel. We will have lots of prizes and giveaways, and a few local radio stations have come on board and plan to broadcast live. We have invited a lot of elected officials to come out and play a few rounds of golf and we’re just going to have a lot of fun. It’s for a good cause and we hope to have a large turnout. This is one of our largest fund-raisers for the year, and we need to raise a lot more money because so much of our budget depends on grant funds, which have been cut significantly.

So, if anyone wants to come out for an enjoyable day, call Olga at our office and she will gladly sign you up. Breakfast will be served, and we’ve planned a grilled lunch on the ninth hole. That evening we’ve planned a reception where we will award prizes. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

To contact Community Forum, call 202/636-3210 or e-mail [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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