Forty years ago, a determined coalition of local leaders came together to build a safe haven for women fleeing abuse in the Lowcountry. These women were looking for options, hope, and a way out–instead, they were met with dead ends. My Sister's House was the answer to their prayers. With humble beginnings as the first emergency shelter for domestic violence victims in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties, MSH has four decades later evolved to provide a comprehensive suite of victim's services.
This year we honor our history, celebrate our achievements, and reflect with conviction on the work that lies ahead.
While our founding service was an emergency shelter for women and their children escaping domestic violence, we quickly learned that victims needed additional support. In response, we:
Expanded our focus to client needs beyond shelter and created our court advocacy program. Working hand in hand with legal advocates and attorneys in the Lowcountry, we began assisting clients in filling out Orders of Protection and explaining the legal process they might endure should they choose to seek legal recompense for their abuse.
Extended our working model further to add therapeutic services to ensure that our sheltered clients had access to the support they needed to process their trauma healthily.
Then, in the '90s, MSH again expanded programs to include:
Case Management and Therapy services for victims who choose not to come into shelter.
Recognizing that housing is often the most significant barrier facing our clients, we then implemented a Housing Assistance coordinator to support them in their search and planning for the future.
Further growth includes formal support for parenting with our staff earning certification to practice an evidence-based parenting program. This service allows our clients to become more engaged, positive parents who provide their children with the healthy structure and stability that may have been lacking for the parents themselves.
Despite these decades of success and demonstrable growth, my heart still aches for every victim. Recently we learned of the third domestic homicide this year in our area. As of the 22nd of January, batterers have murdered three domestic violence victims in North Charleston alone. High lethality domestic violence situations are disturbingly common, and we, as a conscientious public, must galvanize our outrage into action.
While our commitment to the movement to end domestic violence began four decades ago, our dedication is more fervent now than ever. As we look to take stronger action, we face daunting questions. Chief among them: what concrete steps can we take to create a violence-free community? Education. Awareness. Accountability.
Children deserve education and modeling of healthy relationships. Repetition, reinforcement, and resources are vital to ensure that they grow up understanding what a healthy relationship is and believing that they, too, deserve to live free from abuse. Statistically, we know that between 25 and 70 percent (the average is 40 percent) of children exposed to domestic violence suffer from serious behavioral, developmental, social, and emotional problems, compared with 10 percent of children not exposed to DV. [Dr. Dickstein, Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Early Childhood Research Center at Bradley Hospital]
As reported by the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, adults with childhood exposure to domestic violence are:
SIX times more likely to commit suicide
FIFTY percent more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
SEVENTY-FOUR percent more likely to commit a violent crime
Identification and early intervention are critical levers to changing significant, adverse outcomes for children who witness domestic violence. The development of a healthy community and prevention of future abuse means ensuring all children grow up understanding what stable relationships are–and that they deserve nothing less.
Victims should always be aware of information and resource lifelines. They shouldn't have to think twice about finding support to escape their situation or care for themselves and their children. We recognize that there are significant barriers to fleeing an abusive relationship. That’s why our services are trauma-informed and designed to support every aspect of the journey from victimhood to survival. The reality is though services are available, victims are often overwhelmed by the work of leaving and envisioning life after their exit.
So, while awareness begins with ensuring victims know they have somewhere to turn, we must increase understanding that our support services and structural resources exist to allow them to rebuild their lives independently, free from abuse.
Abusers must be held accountable for their violence. The unfortunate truth is that, nationally, fewer than 3% of victims choose to press charges against their abuser. Though few victims currently select to pursue the full legal recourse that may be available to them, a range of systems must be available by which to hold perpetrators accountable for the damage they've caused while honoring whatever form of justice the victim is seeking.
In the worst cases, when abuse escalates to high lethality and results in homicide, accountability is far more straightforward and readily pursued. Unfortunately, at that point, it's too late to support the victim with a safe path to survival—intervention to enforce accountability before further escalation is critical in changing the course for the victim.
Systems for accountability exist in many different forms, with varying degrees of success, locally, nationally, and globally. Outcomes are encouraging, though many of the more innovative programs are still in pilot or test across the country, and measurable results are pending. While the Lowcountry has far to go in developing a broader spectrum of accountability measures, the first step is broad recognition that this remains a critical piece of creating a violence-free community.
So, while MSH's forty years of work is certainly worth recognizing, our focus remains on the future. Our dedicated staff, funders, community, and board continue to find bold and innovative ways to respond in the moment to meet the needs of victims in the Lowcountry. We must now harness our momentum to make real change. As we strive to create a community free of violence in the years to come, we must increase education initiatives, drive public awareness of support programs, and engage with valued Lowcountry partners to explore effective accountability measures.
Please, join us. We each have a part to play in breaking the cycle of domestic violence.
If you're a Lowcountry business leader or Human Resources professional, we encourage you to sign our Partner Pledge.
The Pledge is a unique, no-cost opportunity for local businesses to list My Sister's House as one of their named Employee Assistance Programs, as a local domestic violence victim support service for employees who may be experiencing abuse.
LEARN MORE, HERE: