Domestic Violence is a Community Problem, And The Community is Responding

Featured in County Connections Report: Defining Safety In Santa Barbara County


What’s the most frightened you’ve ever been? Did you fear for your life, or for the safety of a child? Did the fear continue, unabated, for weeks and months and years, even when you had to go to work every day, even when you had to leave your child with someone you did not trust completely?

It is statistically unlikely that you have known such fear, because 70% of us do not live with domestic violence trauma. For nearly 1/3 of us, though, life is very different.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley called domestic violence “the most common violent crime we have in Santa Barbara County.” She also called domestic violence homicide one of the most predictable and preventable crimes.

There are pages and pages of statistics available, but the statistics do not tell you how domestic violence reverberates into all corners of our community. CALM Executive Director Alana Walczak recently wrote to The Independent, “Domestic violence is one of 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can lead to lifelong health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, suicidality, and cancer. The effects of domestic violence extend far beyond the survivor. The toxic stress ripples to include their children and families, schools and our entire community.”

Domestic Violence Solutions Executive Director Jan Campbell offers an illustrative statistic: “The number one cause of women being homeless is domestic violence. At our shelters, we almost always have more children than adults, because victims show up with young children. It’s heartbreaking.”

Good Samaritan Shelter is the largest provider of shelter and services to the homeless and those in recovery along the Central Coast of California. According to Director of Homeless Services Kirsten Cahoon, “I’d say about 10% of our clients are fleeing a domestic violence incident, but probably 30-40% of our clients have been victims of domestic violence. People also become homeless because of substance abuse and mental health, and those things also go hand in hand with abuse.”

In her letter to The Independent, Walczak noted, “Research shows that negative effects (of adverse childhood experiences) can be reversed as a result of early identification, treatment, and support.” That’s why several local non-profits focus on timely intervention.

Dean Palius of Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP) realized that the need for his organization’s emergency shelter services was almost entirely a symptom of domestic violence, and decided to address the cause as well as the symptom. “PHP’s domestic violence prevention program, Advocates for Domestic & Child Abuse Prevention (ADCAP), gets people hooked up with services quickly, so it’s a combination of immediate intervention at the scene of the crime and ongoing counseling and services. Could be food support, could be emergency shelter. People don’t understand why abused women don’t leave, but how many of you would voluntarily become homeless? And make your kids homeless?”

Between staff and volunteers, PHP works with the Sheriff’s department 24/7 to provide intervention assistance. “We work with Domestic Violence Solutions for training,” says Palius. “I have to say that the Sheriff’s Deputies are extremely well trained, and they get it. It’s not like it was 20 years ago, when an officer might knock on the door where there was a disturbance and yell, ‘Knock it off.’”

While Domestic Violence Solutions is primarily a direct services agency, operating shelters for victims, Campbell says, “What we realized over the last few years is that we really have to work as part of an ecosystem that includes law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, and community partners like People Helping People and Standing Together Against Sexual Assault.”

Campbell highly recommends a new book called No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, by Rachel Louise Snyder. According to a New York Times review, “Far from being a private or isolated act, domestic violence — or “intimate partner terrorism,” as Snyder prefers, arguing it more accurately describes the psychological dynamics — has links with mass shootings and is a direct cause of homelessness for more than half of homeless women.” Moreover, Snyder explores the horrific psychological dynamic that causes women to stay with abusers and the public to misunderstand domestic violence. “It’s shameful,” says Campbell, “people hide it. It’s a silent epidemic.”

The family trauma that accompanies domestic violence is well recognized by local responders. According to Palius, “75% of boys exposed to domestic violence grow up to be perpetrators, and over 50% of women exposed to that become victims later. The immediate intervention is important to us because it can break the cycle of violence. The quicker we can get the kids into counseling, the better.”

SBF, in partnership with our donors, has awarded grants over the last five years (in total) to the mentioned organizations: CALM ($604,500), Domestic Violence Solutions ($324,560), Santa Ynez Valley PHP ($220,810), and STESA ($151,500).

Related News