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Healing hearts, bodies and minds: Chamber Leadership visits the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center

JoAnn Hess shares how the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center assists women, children and men experiencing abuse in our community.
IDAHO FALLS — JoAnn Hess knows the devastating scars domestic violence and harmful actions and words can leave on a woman’s life.
“My husband had always told me I was very stupid and would never amount to anything,” says Hess, an advocate at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center (DVSAC).
She proved him wrong — graduating from Idaho State University in social work in 2001 and dedicating 25 years of her life to providing advocacy and support to domestic violence victims.
Each year, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center, where Hess works, serves around 1,200 individuals. When the life of a child, woman or man is threatened or harmed, the center’s programs offer healing and resources for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community.
The Greater Idaho Falls Chamber Leadership program visited the center during its tour of local nonprofits in Idaho Falls Wednesday.
Leadership participants learned that sexual assault and domestic violence are problems that can affect individuals from any gender, class, socioeconomic background, religion or race. Domestic violence, commonly known as intimate partner violence, raises startling statistics.
“Ninety percent of batterers are men. Ten percent are women,” Hess says. “Of that 10%, 7% of those are probably victims first. They’re not the actual batterer.”
Four million women experience domestic violence each year, according to the center. In half of homes with intimate partner violence, kids are also victims.
Chamber Leadership participant Christine Minh-Minh Garner witnessed firsthand the toll of abuse on too many of her students while teaching about dating and marriage in high school.
“It was incredible to me how many girls I was talking to who were already getting abused. They didn’t know who to talk to, and they’d come and talk to me during lunch,” Garner says. “It starts so young sometimes.”
Children who witness violence at home are also more likely to commit violent acts in the future, Hess says.
Furthermore, many women experiencing domestic violence often feel trapped in the relationship because they have never been employed and rely on their partners for financial support.
“It’s not our job to tell them, ‘You have to get out of that relationship, you can’t stay,’” Hess says. “That isn’t my choice, and so if they choose to stay in that relationship, it’s my job to help them.”

Greater Idaho Falls Chamber Leadership participants learn about the mission of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center Wednesday.
The center — located at 1050 Memorial Drive — is not a shelter, but usually uses civil protection orders to “remove the offender from the house and the woman and the kids can stay in the house,” Hess says.
When a verbally or physically abusive situation occurs, a neighbor will often contact the center to inform staff of an incident.
Later, victims at the center can attend Zoom court sessions and learn from court advocates like Hess. The DVSAC provides a “24/7 hotline at (208) 235-2412, emergency shelter for individuals in immediate danger, counseling, a Child Advocacy Center, support groups on Tuesdays, victim and court advocacy and support, batterer intervention, community education and GED resources,” according to its website.
With the hearts of mothers and the tenacity of first responders, the DVSAC’s team of eight specially-trained nurses examine individuals for “bruising, tears” and other signs of abuse, Hess says. Most nurses work other full-time jobs in addition to their time at the center. The facility currently offers three intake rooms and which provide privacy and safety. A standard sexual assault examination can take up to four hours.
Victims over 18 years old can complete the exam as a “Jane Doe,” while minors’ cases must be reported to law enforcement, Hess says.
Additionally, the center assists family members of victims of violent crimes.
The center stays busy every day, Hess says, and would like to expand to a larger facility in the future. It currently serves much of eastern Idaho and parts of western Wyoming.
To operate, the nonprofit receives state, federal and Idaho State Police grants, fundraises and asks for donations from the community.
But the facility’s mission is focused around supporting individuals experiencing trauma. While shame or fear may keep a potential victim from reporting an abusive situation, DVSAC exists to break down those barriers and provide much-needed support.
“If you’re not safe in your own home, how can you be safe in your community?” Hess asks.
The post Healing hearts, bodies and minds: Chamber Leadership visits the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center appeared first on East Idaho News.

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