When a patient at Family Planning of Martha’s Vineyard recently needed assistance from Connect to End Violence, the Island’s only domestic violence and rape counseling center, a counselor was there in 10 minutes.
Now the two health agencies are looking to strengthen the partnership even more. Beginning May 1, a rape crisis and domestic violence counselor from Connect will hold morning office hours on the first Thursday of every month.
Connect program director Jennifer Neary said having a staffed counselor on site will provide a new outlet for victims, survivors, friends and family. Counseling services are free.
“Each person’s story is unique, it’s their own but knowing there are resources out there and that there’s that support out there is important,” Ms. Neary said in an interview last week. “It takes a very strong person to go through what they’ve been through but then to reach out for services is really inspiring.”
Family Planning director Brenda Grandizio said she hoped the move would remove barriers for people seeking services. The clinic offers confidential reproductive health care to men and women, birth control, free sexually transmitted disease testing and pregnancy tests, with all fees offered on a sliding scale.
“We hope it makes people more apt to seek services rather than just giving someone a business card,” Ms. Grandizio said. “Now they know someone will be here on site.”
A program of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Connect offers support, counseling and advocacy for men and women, victims, survivors and friends or loved ones. Someone is always on call for the 24 hour crisis hotline and supervised visitation during the day is available at the community services’s office. On-call counselors will also respond for assistance at a police station or the hospital.
Connect works through an empowerment model, Ms. Neary said.
“Not all things reported to us are reported to the police or the hospital,” she said. “Whatever the client wants to do we’ll support that.”
Jaime Billings, one of three domestic violence and rape crisis counselors at Connect, will be the counselor assigned to the clinic. She said the dynamics of the Island are unique to rape and domestic violence victims, and stressed the need for confidentiality.
“I grew up here so I know what it’s like to see familiar faces all the time, that’s why I always stress to my clients, especially the ones that recognize me as someone who’s grown up here and knows my family, that we take confidentiality very seriously,” she said. “Clients need to sign a release before we can talk with other programs or agencies.”
“Unless we have a signed release we won’t talk about or acknowledge that you’re working with us,” added Ms. Neary.
Ms. Grandizio said the sensitive nature of services provided by both agencies will be respected.
“This place can be isolating too, and you worry about the whisper down a lane kind of thing,” she said. “Having this marriage of programs, we’ll maintain the level of confidentiality that we do here.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Billings reported an increase in call volume handled by her agency this winter. She said typically domestic violence cases increase in the off season and sexual assault cases rise in the summer months.
Connect has seen 152 new clients so far this year, up about 10 clients over the same period last year. In the last quarter, Connect saw 65 clients. The previous fall quarter saw 34 new cases. There were a total of 178 new clients last year.
Ms. Neary said the increase does not necessarily indicate an escalated level of violence on the Island. But she said the numbers indicate an increase in victims and survivors reaching out for support.
“A lot of things play into that, the time of year is a different dynamic, but it’s pretty significant,” she said. “It means that people are accessing the services they need and getting help.”
Connect to End Violence hosts its second annual Sexual Assault Awareness Walk on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the bandstand in Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs. Preregistration is $5 and day of registration is $8. To register contact Jaime Billings at 508-684-8074 extension 104 or email@example.com.