HOPE Inc, A Task Force on Domestic Violence
In West Virginia, a call is made to a domestic violence hotline every seven minutes. For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we want to bring to light the resources that are available to West Virginians experiencing abuse. That does include our work here at Legal Aid of WV, but there are numerous community organizations that partner with us to make sure every need is met for abuse survivors at their most vulnerable.
HOPE, Inc. has facilities in Lewis, Doddridge, Harrison, and Gilmer counties, and they are headquartered in Marion County, where their Domestic Violence Shelter is located. They offer a breadth of services for those experiencing domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault, or human trafficking.
There are many different groups in West Virginia who provide outstanding services to domestic violence survivors, and HOPE is no exception; like those other groups, what makes their work extraordinary is the advocates who work tirelessly for the vulnerable individuals and families that come to them for help, so we will be hearing from their staff on the work they do and why raising awareness is crucial to providing life-saving services.
“At HOPE, if we can provide the service we do; if we can’t provide the service, we find someone who can,” says Kim Nicholson. Kim is an Outreach Coordinator for HOPE, supervising all five of the organization’s outreach offices. She used to be a sexual assault advocate in Lewis County and has worked with survivors for almost a decade.
“We do whatever a client needs—transportation, food boxes, clothing,” she says. “We offer free counseling, court accompaniment, rapid rehousing programs, assistance with filing for Domestic Violence Protective Orders and personal safety orders, and doing referrals to Legal Aid of WV for help with those orders, divorce, and custody.”
The referral process with Legal Aid of WV (LAWV) is a two-way release, meaning it’s highly confidential, and HOPE only refers clients to LAWV if they have given HOPE permission to send the referral in advance. LAWV can—and frequently does—refer clients to HOPE as well for their many services to help survivors get back on their feet.
HOPE also works closely with law enforcement, the Child Advocacy Center, family courts, and other organizations. According to Kim, clients’ needs are wide-ranging and varied, so HOPE’s relationships with local community action groups are integral to creating a network of resources for their clients to access.
When it comes to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kim wants those in abusive situations to know they have a place to turn and people to listen: “When someone comes to our office, they must just need support—to get that reassurance. Abusers are experts in manipulation and have a way of making their victim feel like they are making a big deal out of nothing. It can range from mental abuse to sexual abuse within a marriage or relationship.
“Domestic Violence does not discriminate. It does not matter what your status in life is. A lot of people who are on the outside looking into relationships cannot believe what is going on behind closed doors, so for a lot of victims, they are ashamed to come forward because they are thinking, how did I get here? When someone leaves an abuser, it is the most dangerous time for them, so they need help and someone who understands what they are going through to rebuild their life.
“It’s hard for someone in that situation to think they could ever have a life free from violence when they are happy Coming forward is often the hardest thing, but there is hope, and there is help, and there is healing from this.”
Hannah Freeman, HOPE Victim Advocate, wants survivors to know there’s no right way to take the first step. “There’s no easy or right way to go about looking for help,” she says. “Sometimes it takes a long time. You can’t fault yourself for not making that decision sooner or going back once or ten times before you leave. What’s important is you’re doing your best now. You’re getting help now.”
Hannah’s work focuses largely on advocacy and the legal side of working with domestic violence survivors. She works hand-in-hand with local LAWV attorneys, often making referrals to our offices and occasionally getting some referrals in return. She attends protective order hearings in family court and talks to survivors about other services they can access through HOPE while they are going through that process.
She also serves on the Marion County STOP Team (an acronym for Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors), which focuses of a collaborative approach to safety and follow-up for domestic violence survivors. One of the ways Hannah and the Marion County STOP Team help those experiencing abuse is by making them aware protective orders are an option.
“Many people don’t know about Domestic Violence Protective Orders (DVPOs), think they won’t help, or think their abuser will hurt them if they call the police,” she says. “Aside from an abuser being criminally charged, a DVPO will protect them long-term. It could give them possession of the home they shared; it can protect their children. When DVPOs are violated, the abuser can be arrested. Having a DVPO provides a thicker layer of protection.”
If a survivor decides they want to move forward with a DVPO, Hannah helps them by walking them through the process of what a court hearing might look like. “Sometimes, there is a major fear,” Hannah says. “Am I going to have to see my abuser in court? They might have to face that person, and it can be tough. That’s why having not on me but Legal Aid there makes the process less stressful and more achievable.”
After going through an incredibly taxing process, HOPE ensures survivors continue to have as much support as they can provide. They provide free counseling services at every stage of the process and offer follow-up help if someone reaches out for anything that helps with rebuilding their life.
“We’re here to help with whatever is needed tin recovery, whether that’s child care, a job, getting benefits—I’ve helped someone get their driver’s license,” says Hannah. “No two clients are even close to being the same. They all have different needs, and we help them in any way that we can without judgment.”
If you’d like to learn more about HOPE, Inc, visit their website here.