When Teresa Loffer hid from her husband in her basement with a gun, she realized it was time to make some major changes in her life.
Loffer, like many people, had found her way into an abusive relationship. In her case, her husband would physically beat her from time to time and convince her it was her fault.
“The first time, I blew it off,” Loffer said. “I didn’t think he was really violent.”
However, as her husband became more controlling, she found herself trapped in a relationship she didn’t think she could escape. After being hit with a car, dragged home and kicked with steel-toed boots, Loffer armed herself and hid until she could get out of the house.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to be dead or in jail for the rest of my life. How the hell did I get here?’” Loffer said.
Loffer said getting out wasn’t easy, but once she made the decision, she never looked back. Now, she works as a victim advocate for the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, helping other people get out of abusive relationships.
The center runs on grants and community donations and helps people recognize patterns of abuse and take steps to end them. It provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, shelter, education and support groups, as well as child visitation and exchange centers.
It also helps people with legal documents, such as protection from abuse or stalking orders, and advocates attend court cases with victims should criminal charges against the abuser arise. Except for child visitation and exchange, all services are free.
Loffer said her role usually begins when a person goes looking for help.
“They usually come to our office or a police station or a hospital,” Loffer said. “Those agencies will contact us.”
Candace Anderson Dixon, the center’s executive director, said 144 cases of domestic violence were reported to McPherson law enforcement in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. She said the need is greater than the numbers suggest.
“Only 57 percent of those cases resulted in an arrest, and those were for the instances reported,” Dixon said. “During that time, we provided assistance to 66 percent of those people. There’s a bigger need than we’re currently receiving.”
Dixon said underreporting of instances of domestic violence or sexual assault keeps people from getting the help they need. She also said while law enforcement officials will provide violence victims with the center’s contact information, not everyone will call or come in.
Dixon said those who have advocates will have an easier time taking steps to prevent future abuse. Advocates also can help people fill out protection from abuse or stalking orders, which are 21 pages long.
Page 2 of 3 - “People that have contact with an advocate are more likely to look for help,” Dixon said. “Some people aren’t aware that they have that option of filing a protection order. Having an experienced advocate to talk to can help them decide if it’s the most effective thing to do.”
Loffer said most of the time, she takes a supporting role for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Often this includes visiting them in the hospital and helping them escape the cycle of abuse.
“The whole purpose of my job is to move them from a victim to survivor and empower them,” Loffer said.
History of abuse
Dixon said many times, abusive relationships are hard to spot. Abuse may have been going on long before the first blows were struck.
“Often you find out there’s this whole power and control thing that’s been going on,” Dixon said. “When women can talk to someone, an advocate can point out how much control the person has over them.”
Dixon said abuse often begins with one person trying to restrict what the other does, such as not letting them have a job or close friends, and that violence is just an escalation.
“Part of the advocate’s job is to help them determine if they can improve the relationship, and if not what their options are,” she said.
Dixon said people shouldn’t wait until physical violence occurs. If a person believes their relationship is unhealthy, Dixon said they should seek help early.
Dixon said the center hopes to visit high schools and educate teenagers about what healthy relationships look like, as well as signs of an abusive relationship.
“There’s a lot of dating violence among teens,” Dixon said. “It’s important to teach them about healthy relationships and how to make good choices.”
Dixon said about 70 percent of the center’s funding comes from federal and state grants. The remaining 30 percent comes from organizations like United Way and donations.
“As a local agency, we do rely on local funding,” Dixon said.
Loffer said the center is also in need of volunteers. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. No prior training is required, but abuse survivors are asked to wait one year before applying to volunteer. A background check also may be necessary.
There are three tiers of volunteers. The first tier includes one-time offers and some on-going positions, including community outreach, office aide, media aide and maintenance.
Tier two volunteers commit to ongoing service. These positions include the board of directors and support groups for adults and children.
Page 3 of 3 - Tier three volunteers are trained for direct response to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence in crisis situations. They are on-call from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. and on weekends and receive specialized training totaling 40 hours.
Internships also are available.
Contact Josh Arnett by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ArnettSentinel.