For victims of domestic violence, gathering the strength and courage to leave a relationship can represent one of the hardest steps they must take, according to Santa Monica’s Sojourn Services for Battered Women and Their Children.

During October — Domestic Violence Awareness Month — Sojourn will intensify its outreach to let women know about programs that can help them break the cycle of violence.

In addition to Sojourn’s normal community outreach, Sojourn volunteers will distribute handouts.

Volunteers who have access to schools and youths will pass out information on dating violence.

A large display in the lobby of Santa Monica City Hall has extensive informational literature about resources for victims, warning signs of an unsafe relationship, statistics on abuse, myths and facts, tips on how to help someone in an abusive relationship and how a victim can plan an escape from a violent relationship.

“The vast majority of battered women never call for help,” says Pat Butler, Sojourn director. “Over 4,000 women come to us each year and we’re just one of 23 shelters in Los Angeles County alone.

“Think of how many we serve, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.”

A project of Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) that serves the homeless, Sojourn was founded in 1977 when OPCC noticed more women and children at the center when it served meals.

The center discovered the women weren’t homeless, but that their homes weren’t safe.

From this discovery, Sojourn was born and it opened a crisis shelter that became the second such shelter in California.

A nonprofit agency, Sojourn barely gets enough funding to meet the needs of the community, according to Liz Jones, Sojourn manager of community education and outreach.

All services at Sojourn are free and include a 24-hour hotline, two shelters, support groups, legal advocacy, education and a comprehensive children’s program.

The crisis shelter operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provides four to six weeks of safe housing for victims.

During this time the women and children receive counseling and court and social service advocacy, and they can participate in support groups and various workshops.

A second shelter provides three to six additional months of housing for those who have already been in a crisis shelter but who have suffered extensively.

One of the workshops offered at both shelters is ProjectGROW, a therapeutic gardening program for women and children.

Facilitated by employees and volunteers at Sojourn, participants grow vegetables and herbs and engage in cooking activities.

This workshop and other services give women knowledge and options to help empower them to make choices for themselves and to hopefully put an end to the violence in their lives, according to Jones.

Jones says that violence can be verbal or a physical action that causes the victim to do something she doesn’t want to do or causes her to be afraid.

Because intimidation and threats leave no visible proof of battering, many battered women don’t get help because they don’t think anyone will believe them.

“We have the idea of domestic violence as someone with a black eye, but most people don’t know about the other dynamics such as jealousy, isolation and verbal abuse,” Jones says.

“Many battered women become isolated and after a while their only influence is the batterer, who tells the victim that no one will help them or believe them.

“After the violence there is often a cycle of gifts and kind words and apologies from the batterer, and the victim feels better for a time,” she adds.

According to statistics provided by Sojourn, domestic violence isn’t limited to a particular economic group and it affects women, children and even men from any race, age or educational background. The largest group of intimate partner violence victims is women, including women with disabilities and pregnant women.

Other studies show that one in three female high school students reports being physically, sexually or verbally abused by a dating partner.

Jones adds that one myth is that domestic violence is a momentary loss of temper.

“Batterers get angry at a lot of people but they don’t batter their boss because it’s not in the batterer’s best interest. Batterers save their anger until they are behind closed doors and take it out on their partner,” Jones says.

She said that this behavior shows that batterers can manage their anger and that they make a conscious decision to batter.

“Many batterers are very aware of how they appear in public,” Jones says. “As a result, when the victim steps forward, no one can believe the batterer is a person who would hurt someone, and the victim comes across as crazy, which reinforces what the batterer tells the victim.

“Those who come to Sojourn find relief and comfort in finally having someone believe them.”

Sojourn hopes that raising awareness will lead the public to recognize the enormity of the problem and contribute support.

Sojourn will finish awareness month with a “Jazz in the Afternoon” fundraiser Sunday, November 7th.

Sojourn information, (310) 264-6646. Sojourn 24-hour hotline, (310) 264-6644.

Los Angeles County domestic violence hotline. (800) 978-3600, or mailtalk@yahoo.com

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