First Step Supports Victims of Domestic Violence
October 31, 2019
An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). In Wayne County, First Step is the only non-profit agency providing comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence in 35 communities.
Established in 1978, First Step accomplishes its mission by adhering to the values of safety, integrity, empowerment-based advocacy, social justice, community action, and the appreciation of its resources.
"We're one of the earliest battered women shelters in the country," says Theresa Bizoe, Director of Philanthropy and Capitol Projects for First Step. Bizoe has been with First Step since 1983 and says the organization serves between 7,000 and 8,000 people each year. While First Step does offer emergency housing, not every person served by First Step requires shelter. Services available through First Step include support groups, counseling for adults and children, safety planning, legal services, financial guidance, and the organization's 24-hour help line, to name a few. "There's a huge range of services we provide," says Bizoe. "Sometimes people just call up our help line and they want advice on how to get through the night."
Services are free of charge to anyone who needs them. "Our staff are specially trained in trauma, and they're trained in the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence, and in the legal process, so when somebody comes to us, we can provide comprehensive services," says Bizoe. "I should mention too, we do provide services not just to women, but a lot of men are victims of abuse or sexual assault as well."
First Step's staff of nearly 50 people manage the organization's shelter, the 24/7 help line, and make up an assault response team who goes out to local hospitals and area police departments. Volunteers with the organization receive training as well, and work with children, perform office tasks, sort donations, do landscape maintenance, and cleaning.
Volunteers also assist in PR campaigns, fundraising, education awareness and risk reduction programs. First Step workers go into churches, clubs and other community groups to talk about their services and to educate on domestic violence. Some volunteers serve as children's advocates, speaking to young people about healthy relationships, date rape, and what to do if they suspect someone is being abused. Bizoe
says such outreach is a preventative measure. "We would rather prevent somebody from getting abused than to have to shelter them later on," she says.
After much fundraising, First Step opened The ARK last fall. ARK stands for Animals Receiving Kindness and is designed to remove one of the barriers which can prevent someone from leaving a violent home situation: the fear their beloved pet may be abused, killed, or taken to the local shelter. When a family must enter First Step's emergency shelter, the family pet is now welcome too. The ARK building has kennels, a cat room, and a visiting area with a television. "Having your pet there is very comforting and it reduces the trauma on the family," says Bizoe, adding that many pets are also victims in a domestic violence situation.
Given the NCADV's statistic that one in three women will experience domestic violence sometime in her lifetime, Bizoe says it's highly likely most of us know someone in such a situation. "People hide it," she says. "It's something that really affects somebody's spirit, deep down, and people need help to be able to overcome it." Bizoe says domestic abuse is about control, and jealousy and fear are part of the package. She says the obvious signs are injuries and bruising, but often fear and constantly yielding to the demands of the abuser are more subtle signs that someone may be in need of assistance. "Don't look it as a private issue, violence is something that affects all of us."
First Step's 24-hour help line can be reached at 734-722-6800 and toll-free at 1-888-453-5900.
Bizoe says First Step can always use volunteers and that donations are welcome. The organization has a wish list on its website and the ARK is always in need of pet supplies. For more information about First Step, go to http://www.firststep-mi.org.