By Vanessa Volz, Executive Director, Sojourner House, and Deborah DeBare, Executive Director, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence
We are profoundly saddened by the death of Yanira Flores, mother of two and beloved member of her Woonsocket community. We extend our heartfelt condolences to all those who have been impacted by this horrendous crime.
Yanira's alleged domestic violence murder at the hands of her boyfriend, Alvin Huggins, father of her two children, occurs less than three weeks after the domestic violence murder of an East Providence woman on Mother's Day. With each of these cases, the crimes were not isolated incidents but the final abusive acts in a pattern of violent behaviors perpetrated against these women by their abusers.
We are particularly distressed to learn that Yanira's murder occurred in the presence of her two young children, ages 4 and 2. In addition to the trauma they now must cope with, having witnessed the deadly act of violence that ultimately took their mother's life, we know that, as a result of this trauma, Yanira's children may suffer a range of severe effects lasting well into adulthood – and they are not alone. In Rhode Island, an alarming number of children are witnessing violence in the home. In 2013, children were present for 40% of domestic violence arrests, and children also accounted for 50% of the clients who stayed in domestic violence shelters that year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences), childhood exposure to abuse, neglect, and other traumatic stressors has negative impacts on people's health and well-being across the lifespan. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and neglect as well as the witnessing of violence against one's mother in the home. Childhood trauma is not something a person grows out of – such adverse experiences strongly relate to a person's development and to the prevalence of health and social problems throughout one's lifespan, including chronic diseases, substance abuse, dropping out of school, employment challenges, and even early death.
When we view domestic violence as a criminal justice issue that only pertains to a few individuals – rather than as the preventable public health crisis we know it to be – we fail to understand or adequately address the vast toll that domestic violence takes on all of us, including family, friends, and neighbors, but particularly any children who are involved. Several studies show that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to continue the cycle of violence into the next generation – either as victims or as perpetrators. The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where domestic violence occurs.
Our children are our future, but in the face of such facts and statistics, what will that future look like for them? What will it look like for Rhode Island? To break the cycle of domestic violence across generations, we must do more to protect our children, create a brighter future for our state, and prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place.
When high profile cases like Yanira's murder occur, those suffering from abuse are finally seen, but seen much too late. Domestic violence occurs every day in every Rhode Island community – no type of person and no city or town is immune. The countless others impacted by domestic violence deserve to live their lives free from abuse. We must act now if we are to ever build that world for them, for one another, and for the generations to come.
Resources for Children in Rhode Island:
Children who are exposed to violence in the home are being denied their right to a safe, stable home life where they can grow and thrive. They need trusted adults to turn to for support as well as services that help them cope with their experiences and rebuild their lives.
At Sojourner House, the Youth Advocate works solely with children who have witnessed domestic violence. The Youth Advocate offers an expressive arts group and a parenting group for shelter and transitional housing clients. Every summer, Sojourner House offers a summer camp, Camp Eureka, in partnership with Moses Brown, a free camp available to all children who have accessed the agency's services throughout the year.
Community Care Alliance is a multi-service agency based in Woonsocket working to strengthen families, individuals, and the community. To learn how the Alliance can be a resource for children who witness domestic violence, visit their website at www.communitycareri.org.
Ways to Help:
As relatives, friends, coworkers, classmates, and neighbors, we must be able to understand the dynamics of abuse, identify warning signs, and know how to intervene so that we can keep victims safe and prevent another tragedy.
Calling 911 if you suspect or witness abuse is an important step to take, but there are many other ways to help. Reach out to anyone whom you suspect or know is being abused. Listen, and express your concerns without judgment. Ask the person what you can do for them, and check in consistently. Help them create a plan that will keep them safe when abuse occurs, and connect them with local resources, such as the statewide Helpline (800-494-8100). Additional resources and information can be found at www.ricadv.org.
About Sojourner House:
Sojourner House is a comprehensive domestic violence agency serving Providence and Northern Rhode Island. Sojourner House operates an Emergency Safe House, Transitional Housing Program, support groups, a summer camp for children who witness violence, teen dating violence prevention programs, and more. Sojourner House provides free services to victims of relationship violence regardless of age, gender, citizenship, or any other characteristic. For more information, please visit www.sojournerRI.org.
About the RICADV:
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) is an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence. The RICADV was formed in 1979 to support and assist the six domestic violence agencies in Rhode Island. The organization provides leadership to its six member agencies, strives to create justice for victims, and raises awareness on the issue of domestic violence in Rhode Island.
The RICADV's member agencies provide a wide array of services for victims – including 24-hour hotline support, emergency shelter, support groups, counseling services, and assistance with the legal system. For more information about these organizations and services, call the statewide Helpline at 800-494-8100.