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Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force - Article featuring Wendy Loomas, Chris Warwick and Travis Johnson
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Article featuring Wendy Loomas, Chris Warwick and Travis Johnson | Print |  E-mail
Kid programs help prevent violence Kid programs help prevent violence

Delta Project reaches out to kids to educate about domestic violence
 
By ALEXANDRA CALDWELL
 
Article published on Sunday, March 15, 2009

The county has two domestic violence awareness and prevention programs aimed at children: The Peacemaker Program and the Delta Project. Peacemakers go into preschools, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms and high school classes to teach age-appropriate material, such as how to solve differences peacefully, anti-bullying tips and information about domestic violence and sexual assault, said Christine Warwick, director of the Haven.

“For a lot of kids that’s a real eye opening moment because they’ve lived with things in their house and they just assumed everyone else was that way, and then they learn that you can grow up and you don’t have to live that way,” Warwick said.

The Delta Project targets middle school boys to help teach them about healthy relationships, power and control, understanding differences and gender, and showing them positive male role models, said Travis Johnson, administrator for the Pinellas County Delta Project.

“The main aim is to prevent the first-time victimization and the first-time perpetration of domestic violence,” Johnson said. “. . . (The program) is an effort to educate and give kids more resources and more knowledge so they can make better choices in the future.”

The Center for Disease Control gave the county a grant for the program, and the county chose to target middle school boys because generally men are the batterers and because research shows that middle schoolers are especially receptive to new information and messages, Johnson said.

The Peacemaker Program takes place all over the county, and right now the Delta Project is set up in St. Petersburg, although it is working on getting into Largo Middle School and the High Point YMCA of the Suncoast in Clearwater, Johnson said.

The boys in the Delta Program meet once a week and discuss different topics, Johnson said. While Johnson guides the boys in the right direction, he allows for free discussion so they can speak their minds.

“The long-term goals (of the program) I would say are that the participants in the programs do not become batterers or victims of domestic violence in the future and that they can positively influence their friends and their family, their teachers, other students, and teach them some of the things they know or display it in the way they react to situations and how they live their lives and are a positive influence on those around them,” Johnson said.

The program generally works with boys who are already doing the right thing, but the goal is to be good influences on them to make sure they continue on that path said Wendy Loomas, chair of the Domestic Violence Task Force in Pinellas County.

“A lot is breaking down the myths of what they think boys and men are about versus what the reality is,” Loomas said. “Like guess what? Most men don’t hit their wives. Guess what? Most men really love their wives and girlfriends and most men treat them with respect. And most boys in middle school are not having sex and they’re not doing drugs and they’re not doing those things we hear about. Those are exceptions, and that’s why we hear about it. So we’re trying to make it okay for them to be good guys like they are and for them to stay there.”

Domestic violence is in every neighborhood and is more common than many people think, Loomas said. About one in four women and one in 12 men experience domestic violence at least once in their lifetime, she said, and the effects of it permeate all of society. Warwick agreed, adding that The Haven houses between 300 and 400 women and children each year in its emergency shelters because it is unsafe for them to go home. Women are about 10 times more likely to experience domestic violence than breast cancer, she said.

“Two years ago, the Center for Disease Control said that in this country, domestic violence is an epidemic, just like heart disease and diabetes,” Warwick said.

Although crime is going down, domestic violence is not, Warwick said. And now the economy is causing people to stay in the shelters longer because the community lacks affordable housing and new jobs, she said. The list for Section 8 housing is years long, Warwick said.

“And of course, people are losing their jobs, so sometimes there’s domestic violence going on but at least there were times when the abuser was at work and it’s a reprieve for the rest of the family,” Warwick said. “But now, if the abuser is home 24/7 because they lost their job, that just means the potential for abuse is greater.”

Men who are not abusers need to be part of the solution, Warwick said, otherwise the cycle will never stop. Entire attitudes need to change she said, because even people who are not abusers can add to the problem.

“It’s a tough concept, but when you think about things like how boys are socialized, like if they don’t run fast the coach may say ‘You run like a girl” or play like a girl or cry like a girl, which to boys means that girls are since male role models are telling them that,” Warwick said. “There needs to be a social change to change that way of thinking. It’s okay that they’re not athletic or if they choose careers that aren’t necessarily male-dominated careers. And it’s important for men, the good men, the nonabusers, to speak out to other men. Abusers are always testing the waters. They’re always telling sexist jokes, belittling the females in their lives, and the men who aren’t abusive often don’t say anything to them. They don’t want to confront them.”

If men do not confront other men when they belittle women, that affirms the abuser’s viewpoint, Warwick said. To the abuser, it says that the other men feel the same way so therefore that is an okay way to think and act, she said.

Domestic violence hurts society as a whole, Loomas said. It costs businesses money when people are often absent due to injury or court hearings. Abusers often try to get their victims fired, so that also costs businesses time and money with re-hiring and re-training, she said. It costs taxpayers with hospitalizations and police costs and increased crime. It hurts good men because women don’t know who they can trust, she said. And it especially hurts children.

“Especially very young children because they can’t even leave,” Loomas said. “They’re completely dependent on these two people, one of whom is beating up the other one or threatening or scaring or terrorizing. And we even have evidence that these children’s brains don’t develop correctly. They don’t do the developmental things that they need to do in terms of play and crawling and walking and those types of things because their environments are not safe. And then they get to school and they’re not ready for school and you can see the spiral.”

It costs in lives, too. About 20 percent of the homicides in Pinellas County each year are due to domestic violence, Loomas said. In 2008 there were five domestic homicides and 5,854 domestic violence-related reports sent to the State Attorney’s Office.

The only way to stop the cycle is for everyone to stand up and help, Johnson said. He said there is more to being a good man than just not hitting one’s wife – it’s standing up for all women.

“One of the most powerful things the general public can do is to not accept violence,” Johnson said. “I hear and grew up with hearing that domestic violence is their own personal problem. They say it belongs in the house and no one else should know about it, but it would be more beneficial if the communities would stand up and say this is not just a household problem – this is a community problem ... I feel it is impossible to end domestic violence without men getting off the plate. I think the only way to truly reach men is to hold them accountable by having other men holding them accountable.”

Article published on Sunday, March 15, 2009
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