Domestic Violence Programs: Harm Reduction, Federal Funding and Raising Awareness

March 1, 2016

By Nayah James

On Feb. 17, domestic violence advocate, coordinator and trainer Sabrina Hampton led a discussion entitled ‘Black Women Resisting Violence’ to Dominican’s gender and violence sociology course.

Hampton started her work with women and domestic violence thanks to a program called Connections for Abused Women and their Children. She spoke about working with parents, mothers and young individuals who were impacted by or survivors of domestic violence. She also spoke about how abuse shelters and programs work to help, yet restrict, victims and how she’s raised awareness over the last couple of years.

Hampton now works for the National Runaway Safeline. She often speaks locally as well as nationally about women and children victimized by domestic and personal violence, in some cases, resulting in abuse or death.

“At the National Runaway Safeline, we don’t tell people what to do,” Hampton said. “We are solution focused and trauma informed. We understand that anyone we’re going to be talking to is experiencing trauma and we want to check with them about what they’ve done to survive and we want them to continue using those skills.”

Some of the main points Hampton made in the discussion were specifically about reducing harm, having a safety plan, being federally funded and raising awareness.

As she read from a PowerPoints, she provided the classroom with statistics, terms, definitions and the rules and regulations that certain shelters expect members to live.

According to Hampton, harm reduction is a strategy that supports people and prevents risk for potential behaviors.

“When we walk home with keys between our fingers to feel safe or locking doors behind us when we get home, that’s harm reduction,” Hampton said. “We use harm reduction every day and might not realize were doing it.”

The most dangerous time for victims is when they try to, or actually do, leave an abusive relationship.

“It is most dangerous because the oppressor and abuser is at risk of losing power and control over their partner or lover,” Hampton said.

When it comes to being federally funded and supported, there are many policies domestic abuse and violence victims have to abide by.

“Some programs demand people to have specific changes to receive help,” Hampton said. “Once you get in bed with that federal funding, you have to abide by their rules. At battered shelters you can’t be in contact with your abuser, you can’t drink, you can’t stay out overnight, you can’t let your children be out of you eye sight, you can’t miss support group and you can’t operate your own medicine, that has to be locked up. You can’t have conflicting opinions with the staff. You have deal with it. Conflict with staff could make or break you staying there.”

Hampton explained that victims sometimes don’t make it through or stay in the support programs because they end up feeling stuck in the same situation. Also, if a victim’s abuser(s) is gang affiliated, the program wants them to have more protection before entering.

“If you want to get an order of protection because your partner has gang ties or you know it’s going to make them more violent, the likelihood of getting into one of those programs gets cut,” Hampton said.

Hampton also discussed that women with mentally disabled adult aged children, people who are undocumented, people who do sex work, bi-polar patients and people who identify as LGBTQ can be prevented from joining the program.

“Harm reduction is so important because of all the people we miss,” Hampton said. “Currently, there are only two shelters that take in boys up to the age of 17, a majority stopping at 13 and a few at 15. Programs will not allow transgender women and/or men into their facility; they focus on the female body in domestic violence shelters.”

Specifically for women of color, Hampton stated that programs and groups are committed to building community with other groups to discuss self-care and to share ways they can receive help by building support.

“We as women of color aren’t taught to take care of ourselves in a way that’s to support our growth,” Hampton said. “When I talk about ‘self-care’, I don’t mean take a bath when you’re sad. If you need therapy or to talk to someone, ask for that help.”

Hampton also discussed her efforts with the National Runaway Safeline. They raise awareness in unusual and creative ways to ensure that the statistics of domestic abuse and murders due to partner violence stick in the minds of people in various communities in Chicago, such as Englewood and Pilsen.

“During the holiday’s, we retrieved stories of every woman murdered by their partner and made a life-size silhouette and sang Christmas carols. As you heard the Christmas song, you heard real 911 calls being played,” she explained.

Hampton ended the discussion by asking a few serious rhetorical questions to the sociology class, ensuring to leave an impact.

“As a woman of color, it’s like how can I make this space safe for women like me,” Hampton asked. “How can I as a woman of color, who identifies as queer, make this space safe for folks like me? How can I ensure that I am able to create a place where everyone is being heard and bring to the forefront that we have issues that are going to be different from each other?”