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Lorain County: As domestic homicide cases surge, Genesis House provides resources, awareness.

(Article originally published in the Morning Journal on 10/31/2020)

With the end of October, comes the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time of the year that education and awareness efforts from Lorain County Safe Harbor/Genesis House go into overdrive.

Nearly 20 people a minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, equaling more than 10 million men and women in the United States who have experienced domestic violence in a year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

As a result, on a typical day, more than 20,000 calls are phoned in to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

Genesis House executive director Virginia Beckman said the issue of domestic violence and the need for resources do not escape Lorain County and its domestic violence shelters.

"Domestic violence is certainly rampant in Lorain County," Beckman said.

Now, Beckman said she suspects the novel coronavirus pandemic has influenced an influx in cases in the county, with more domestic homicides counted in the past six months than in the past three years alone.

Those incidents include a woman shot to death in March in Lorain, five Elyria family members killed in a murder-suicide in July and two found dead in Penfield Township in late September.

"That's very concerning for us," Beckman said. "We certainly suspect that it could be a result that domestic violence thrives in secrecy and isolation, so when we increase isolation, it increases risk.

"The pandemic could have been that tipping point."

The shelter impact

Genesis House's shelter has seen an uptick in activity, noting that through the summer into the fall, that large families have checked in and needed a place to stay, Beckman said.

While it's hard to nail down trends and their causes, she said she suspects that the pandemic is making it harder for families to find refuge from violent parents or partners, turning them to Genesis House for safety.

With this influx in need, she said shelters are encouraged to limit their capacities and find offsite locations for families to stay instead.

That then leads to an overworked staff, as services including food, laundry money and technology for families must be provided outside of Genesis House's central location, Beckman said.

Additionally, the organization often works with community partners to hold programming outside of Genesis House's location, expanding its service area, she said.

Now, many of those partners have closed their doors due to the pandemic, leaving the organization's service area smaller.

The organization has relied on CARES Act funding to provide hand sanitizer and face masks as well to help adhere to safety precautions and social distancing, Beckman said.

"It's been a challenge in a few ways," she said.

New ways of engaging

However, Beckman said Genesis House has found ways to engage the community, especially in October.

The organization has resorted to updating social media accounts to keep people informed, while rebooting its website in late September.

In a few months, a podcast about domestic violence will become accessible through its new website.

"We've been really thinking of ways we can continue to provide outlook and education for the community," Beckman said.

For the past month, local businesses and organizations have partnered with Genesis House for its Empty Seat at the Table displays, which honors those who lost their lives to domestic violence.

Beckman said the organization supplies each business with a framed narrative of an individual victim, a purple ribbon to tie on the back of the chair and a basket of literature and purple ribbons for customers to take.

The response from the community has become overwhelming over the past few years, with over 25 organizations participating this year.

With a host of libraries, municipal courts, banks and administrative offices taking part, Beckman said seeing businesses like barber shops participating by taping off a station for the display is particularly special.

"The notion that the barber shop is the quintessential male-dominated environment, and the fact that they would dedicate that space to someone who was lost due to domestic violence

... it's just so meaningful and poetic that we couldn't do on our own," she said.

Knowing domestic violence better

One of the many misconceptions people hold about domestic violence is that it is solved with anger management treatment, Beckman said.

The issue runs much deeper than being unable to manage one's temper, she said.

"Anger and violence is used instrumentally to establish and keep power and control over an intimate partner," Beckman said.

By holding that assumption, she said she finds that local resources, shelters and programs try to treat the issue through incorrect intervention resources. Beckman said there are few places that get it right.

For those seeking resources to combat domestic violence, call the Genesis House hotline at 440-244-1853 or 440-323-3400.

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