July 28, 2014

Elyria
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New director takes over at Genesis House

LORAIN — The new executive director of Genesis House is well aware of the challenges she faces.

Thirty-three women have been murdered in Lorain County since 1989 by their boyfriends or husbands, and women — and occasionally men — are beaten by their intimate partners on a daily basis. In addition to trying to help domestic violence victims, Virginia Beckman is trying to raise awareness of the problem and expand services in a time of shrinking resources.

“We can’t just sit and wait for people to knock on our shelter door,” Beckman said. “We have to go out to the county and reach people where they’re at. The larger part of our services involve outreach and advocacy.”

Beckman, 41, succeeded longtime Executive Director Marilyn Zeidner who retired in August. The 22-bed Genesis House Shelter opened in 1979, and Genesis House became a private, nonprofit group in 1995. Operating on an approximately $700,000 annual budget and with eight full-time staff and 10 part-timers, Genesis House offers a variety of services.

They include community education, counseling, a 24-hour crisis hotline and legal advocacy. Education includes training hair stylists at area salons to look for signs of domestic violence in their customers. Victims sometimes have bruises, cuts, scars or torn-out hair that a stylist may detect.

Outreach also includes high school and college students. About 12,000 students attended 357 presentations by Genesis House in the 2011-12 school year, according to Beckman. Youth initiatives also include Teen Street Teams in which teenagers and their teacher advisers educate their peers about dating violence and domestic violence overall.

Beckman said research shows teens are more likely to reach out to one another than adults when domestic violence occurs. Genesis House was also approved last month by Lorain Schools to provide training to students in reducing dating violence.

“Teens come up with ways to reach their peers in ways we as adults wouldn’t,” she said. “It’s very powerful.”

Outreach comes as money is harder to find for nonprofits in the wake of the Great Recession. Beckman said Genesis House — which served 7,028 clients in the last fiscal year through its hotline, legal advocacy and shelter — receives some taxpayer money through agencies such as the Lorain County Board of Mental Health and the state Office of Criminal Justice Services. However, the bulk of its money comes from private donations from groups like The Community Foundation of Lorain County, the Nord Family Foundation and the United Way.

Beckman said Genesis House has received about $100,000 to $200,000 less in contributions in the last few years making it harder to staff the shelter or expand services. “Our funding has taken an enormous blow,” she said.

Despite greater awareness and outreach, some 16,800 annual homicides occur nationally due to domestic violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 55 deaths — 37 victims, 18 perpetrators — in Ohio last year due to domestic violence, according to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.

Beckman said there need to be greater social as well as criminal consequences for domestic violence. She said victims are still too often blamed due to a lack of awareness of the dynamics of power and control between the batterers and their victims.

Beckman said Saturday’s murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher is a good example of a lack of sensitivity and understanding by the public. Belcher gunned down his girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, before shooting himself. Beckman said most of the talk has focused on Belcher not getting the help he needed rather than on what he did to Perkins.

Batterers sometimes cut off communications between the victim and the victim’s family or control household finances making it more difficult for the victim to get out of the relationship, particularly if there are children involved. “We’ve got a long way to go,” she said.

Beckman, who grew up in the Cleveland area, has worked full- and part-time for Genesis House since 1997 and has been working with victims since college. While the work can be depressing and traumatic, Beckman said she has also been inspired by victims overcoming abuse.

“It really speaks to just the innate strength in people,” she said. “The things that they’re able to live through and survive and overcome.”

To find help

Genesis House provides a 24-hour crisis hotline for domestic violence victims. The numbers are (440) 323-3400, (440) 244-1853 or toll free at (866) 213-1188.

Painful consequences

Domestic violence takes an enormous human and financial toll on society around the county, state and nation.

  • About 16,800 homicides annually are related to domestic violence with 55 deaths in Ohio in 2011.
  • The annual cost of domestic violence, which includes treatment of injured and lost worker productivity, is $37 billion.
  • About 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women.
  • One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • Approximately 1.3 million women are assaulted by their intimate partner annually, including about 26,000 in Ohio.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.