Interview with a Vermont Nonprofit: AWARE
By Margaret Hansen
Celebrating 10 years of connecting Vermont job seekers and employers, JobsInVT.com recently selected the next two quarterly winners, who each selected a nonprofit to receive a $500 donation from JobsInVT.com. One of the Live Work Give contest winners was Maggie York, who chose AWARE.
"I have a dear friend who needed to make use of AWARE's services, and I was extremely impressed with the work they do and their dedication, compassion, and integrity," said York. "I'm glad to have this opportunity to support their important work."
I recently caught up with AWARE's Executive Director Anna Pirie to learn more about this organization that works diligently to help women, men and children in abuse and rape emergencies.
How many individuals does AWARE serve on an annual basis?
Anna Pirie, AWARE: AWARE typically serves over 240 direct victims of domestic and sexual violence each year along with the nearly 200 children of those victims. We also provide the community with education and prevention classes, trainings and events.
What percentage of abused individuals do you think stay silent and remain in abusive and dangerous situations? What do you attribute their silence to?
AP: To give you some statistics: according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Of the domestic violence victims, 85 percent are women and most cases are never reported to the police. One in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape and nearly 7.8 million women have been raped by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services.
Victims of domestic and sexual violence stay silent and don't report the crime due to a variety of factors, including: trauma, fear, shame, self-denial and minimization, financial concerns, fear of retaliation (including their own death), suicide of the perpetrator, and/or losing their children, home, job, and family. Also, the criminal justice system is a long, slow process and often blames the victim for their own victimization.
I noticed that your services are not only free, but confidential. How important is confidentiality to your people you serve?
AP: Confidentiality is extremely important for a victim's safety and protection. They need a safe and confidential place where they can come and tell their story without being judged and to receive the help that they need
What do the people you serve fear most, in your opinion, and how do you help to alleviate those fears?
AP: Victims fear being injured physically as well as emotionally. If there are children involved, they fear losing custody of them. They fear never being able to get away, because batterers often stalk and continue to prey on their partners when they try to leave. They fear making it on their own: paying the bills, raising the children, keeping or finding a job, etc. At AWARE, we believe them and validate their fears and concerns. We tell them the truth about how the judicial system works and give them information to help them in maneuvering the court system and utilizing their legal rights to obtain custody of their children and to receive financial support. We offer extensive emotional support to support victims through their own process of healing.
What is the greatest lesson that AWARE can give a person who is being abused?
AP: I think a great lesson for someone who is experiencing domestic violence is that they do have power and they can make their own decisions, that what their abuser is telling them isn't the truth; and that they are worthy individuals who deserve more than being victimized by someone who professes to love them.
Does your organization rely on volunteers? How large is your staff?
AP: AWARE has three staff members, who all provide direct services to survivors. Anna Pirie, Executive Director, Tonda Bryant, Legal Advocate and Andrea Jones, Youth Program Coordinator. And yes, we do rely on volunteers. Our board of directors is made up of volunteers plus we have several volunteers who help us with a variety of tasks.
What have been some milestones that AWARE has achieved that you are particularly proud of?
AP: AWARE is a small, but well-respected organization. Tonda Bryant was recognized in May with the statewide "Spirit of Advocacy Award," given by the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. And a few years ago, I was awarded the statewide Crime Victims Service Award.