Victim support elevated during pandemic at Crisis Center of Dodge City

Vincent Marshall
Dodge City Daily Globe
A 'Thank You' wall stationed at the Crisis Center of Dodge City gives thanks to the many organizations in southwest Kansas that support the Crisis Center and its mission to, "Believe, support and empower victims' of domestic and sexual violence through advocacy services."

People across the world had to adapt and overcome the changes made from the COVID-19 pandemic as it began being widespread in March and April 2020.

As states issued lockdown and stay-at-home orders, support organizations were met with a need to alter tactics to keep safety lifelines open and available to those in need.

In that time and over the past year, the Crisis Center of Dodge City went into high gear.

Serving victims of domestic and sexual violence since 1981, the Crisis Center of Dodge City first began as a volunteer program before becoming a non-profit organization serving Ford, Gray, Hodgeman, Clark and Meade counties.

"The passion of four women over 40 years ago saw a need for victims of sexual and domestic violence to have a voice and a place for hope and healing," said Crisis Center of Dodge City Executive Director Tammie West. "A board member donated a two-bedroom trailer that served as our shelter until 1994, then we were blessed with a five-bedroom home providing a safe environment for many women and children."

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Now the Crisis Center is made up of five outreach advocates, a shelter manager and four shelter night staff.

In 2020, the Crisis Center of Dodge City served 260 survivors, provided safe shelter for 1,759 bed nights to 40 families with 43 children either in its shelter and/or hotel, all while COVID-19 changed how it could provide services safely.

"Our shelter was full and we couldn't do full capacity due to COVID-19," West said. "We worked with three hotels in the community as well as worked to provide food and personal hygiene items.

"We had 15 families relocated to Dodge City from out of state or eastern Kansas and prior to the move had to let them know that Dodge City was a hotspot for the virus at the time. We were high-risk, but they came anyway."

The Crisis Center also assisted 39 male victims in 2020.

The Crisis Center was able to secure additional funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and local funding to provide shelter support for victims or meet the great need for safe shelter support for victims.

"Normally we'd have 16 families a year needing assistance," West said. "Last year we had 40."

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According to West, part of that increase in need came with the isolation lockdowns made for abusers.

"One of the signs of abuse is isolation," West said. "There are so many different tactics abusers use to have complete control. In their mind it's all about controlling their property. In an abuser's mind, it's their property, not a loved one.

"By isolating their victims from friends and family, they are able to maintain that control."

West added that the virus itself was used as a way for abusers to keep control of victims, telling them if they went out they could get the virus or if an abuser had the virus, using that as a tool to mentally tell their victims if they were to leave they could spread the virus to others which kept the isolation in place.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, assault or abuse, call the Crisis Center of Dodge City hotline at 620-225-6510

For cases of domestic violence, one thing West said she has seen increase over the last decade has been the increase in the violence in cases, among them the use of strangulation as a tactic.

"It's been a steady increase over the years," West said. "It used to be used every once in awhile but now 50% of our clients have said strangulation (or choking) was used, it's now consistently part of their story."

West said before 2009, cases consisted of beatings or shootings of victims; since 2009, there has been an increase in beatings, sexual sodomy and torture used.

When asked a possible reason for the violence increasing, West said she didn't have a definitive answer but said it's more about the control and desperation used.

Other tactics used that West said she has seen over the years is financial isolation.

West said abusers will keep all control of finances.

"If a victim needs to get diapers or other items, the abuser will give them just enough money to get those items. It's all about control. We've even seen cases where the abuser will keep one of the children at home so the victim can't flee with the children once they are given money to go shopping."

Despite courthouses being closed from lockdowns, the courts never closed for the Crisis Center.

According to West, they were able to put in for protection from abuse orders and stalking orders. In 2020, West said there were 48 PFA or stalking orders processed.

On top of that, the Crisis Center also provided 1,866 advocacy services such as; support counseling, crisis intervention, court and health advocacy, safety planning, public benefits services and advocates responded to 387 hotline calls.

"We provide 74 outreach support groups to 820 survivors' for women in Ford Co. jail, men in the New Chance program, weekly students support groups at Dodge City High School Alternative Ed program and Communities in Schools students at DCHS and groups for residents at Park Plaza," said West. "Last year we shared 21 presentations to 1,508 students, community groups and/or members and medical staff, we participated in 10 community awareness events to 382 participants."

According to the Dodge City Police Department, the number of domestic violence reports made in 2020 were 224 with 252 made in 2019.

The number of domestic violence arrest reports made in 2020 were 175 with 214 in 2019.

The number of dual arrests in 2020 were six, with four in 2019 and the percentage of arrests from those incidents were 78%, with 85% in 2019.

Regarding the arrest reports, DCPD said the arrest report doesn’t always mean an actual physical arrest took place.

"It just means an arrest page was completed to show the case is not an open case," DCPD said. "This could mean a subject was issued a citation, the case was filed through the county attorney’s office to be charged, or the person was taken into custody arrested."

For the Ford County Sheriff's Office, the number of domestic violence incidents reported in 2020 were 16; the number of arrests were 11 and the number of dual arrests were one.

Look for the signs

If you or someone you know may be a victim of abuse, according to West, there are signs to look for.

Here are signs of being a victim of physical or sexual violence:

Using economic abuse

― Preventing the victim from getting or keeping a job.

― Making them ask for money.

― Giving them an allowance.

― Taking their money.

― Not letting them know about or have access to the family income.

Using coercion, threats

― Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt them.

― Threatening to leave, commit suicide, to report them to welfare.

― Making them drop charges.

― Making them do illegal things.

Using intimidation

― Making them afraid by using looks, actions, gestures.

― Smashing things.

― Destroying their property.

― Abusing pets.

― Displaying weapons.

Using emotional abuse

― Putting them down.

― Calling them names.

― Making them think they are crazy (gaslighting)

― Playing mind games.

― Humiliating them.

― Making them feel bad about themselves.

― Making them feel guilty.

Using isolation

― Controlling what they do, who they see and talk to, what they read and where they go.

― Limiting their outside involvement.

― Use jealousy to justify actions.

Minimizing, denying and blaming

― Making light of the abuse and not taking their concerns about it seriously.

― Saying the abuse didn't happen.

― Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior.

― Saying they caused it.

Using children

― Making them feel guilty about the children.

― Using the children to relay messages.

― Using visitation to harass them.

― Threatening to take the children away.

Using privilege

― Treating them like a servant.

― Making all the big decisions.

― Acting like "Master of the castle."

― Being the one to define men's and women's roles.

Continuing support moving forward

In an effort to enlarge community partners and increase awareness of its services, the Crisis Center participates in all five counties' Local Emergency Planning Committee meetings, which promote community relationships, participate in a United Way partnership, Volunteer Opportunity for Active Disaster, Gray Co. Lions Club, Rotary, Women's Chamber, Ford County Community Collaboration Response Team (CCRT), SANE/SART Sexual Assault Response Team, Federal Emergency Management Agency and a regional HUD homeless prevention coordinated meeting.

The Crisis Center also coordinates with ministerial alliance, senior centers and civic groups.

"This has not only enlarged but has unified community relationships and collaboration," West said. "CCDC has cultivated outreach services and community awareness this last year by delivering awareness presentations about CCDC services, raising awareness about red flags surrounding domestic/dating violence, Expect Respect Teen Mentoring Program and awareness surrounding sexual assault and human trafficking.

"Last October our CCRT hosted a training called Behind the Mask presented by Andrew Campbell, and 83 attended in person and 41 participated virtually."

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April also marks national Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Currently, the Crisis Center of Dodge City has a community luncheon planned for April 27.

"We are trying to secure a venue," West said. "It's to be determined."

According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month which began to bring awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment and abuse.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, assault or abuse, call the Crisis Center of Dodge City hotline at 620-225-6510.

To contact the writer email vmarshall@gannett.com