Helpline For Victims of LGBTQ Violence in VA Hopes to Bridge Gaps in Services
The Virginia Anti-Violence Project is excited to announce a partnership with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance to offer new services for LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual violence, and stalking in the Greater Richmond area.
The recent collaboration of these groups is part of a larger push called the Richmond Area Partnership(RAP) which is made up of seven partners to expand sexual and domestic violence services to the LGBTQ community. Southerners On New Ground, ROSMY, Safe Harbor, Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, Action Alliance and the Fan Free Clinic are also voices of this partnership.
The efforts made by these groups have resulted in Virginia’s first LGBTQ Helpline for Partner Abuse and Sexual Assault. The helpline is aimed to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning callers looking for information or help with a free and confidential telephone service.
Communications director for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Kate McCord says the helpline could serve to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and service providers.
“The helpline is intended to offer culturally specific support and information for LGBTQ communities where there has been a gap before and that gap exists because mainstream victim service agencies know how to work on and address sexual violence and IPV but not necessarily among clients or survivors who identify as LGBTQ. LGBTQ specific service providers don’t always know how to address and present sexual violence and intimate partner violence,” McCord said. “So there’s this overlap that we’re trying to bridge.”
McCord says the RAP project uses a 3-prong strategy to address intimate partner and sexual violence among LGBTQ communities in Richmond. The strategies to increase awareness of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, dating violence and stalking in LGBT communities in Richmond are:
1.) education and outreach
2.) To strengthen the capacity of service providers that are both mainstream, sexual and domestic violence service providers and LGBTQ specific service providers to offer help and support and advocacy to LGBTQ survivors of violence and their friends and families in a culturally specific way.
3.) Convening listening sessions and story circles with LGBTQ people in Virginia who identify as people of color to explore the impact of southern culture on the experience of victimization and healing for diverse LGBTQ communities. The helpline falls under the second prong.
Jackie Small serves as the Community Advocate for Virginia Anti-Violence Project who says the collaboration stated about a year ago. She doesn’t feel that a lot of mainstream services have been accessible to the LGBTQ community and believes the work of these groups is changing that.
“I think people for a while have thought well we have hotlines for everyone so that means that everyone will call it when in reality a lot of LGBTQ people when they call there is an assumption of what their gender is, of what gender their partner is and it’s often a situation where their experiences are silenced before they even get to talking about it because of the gendered understanding of intimate partner violence,” Small said.
“Certainly the most important impact will be for all those folks who would like to be reaching out for services or support that aren’t because they don’t feel like other agencies are accessible this is a place where they can call and have an understanding interaction with somebody who is going to be affirming of their gender identity, sexuality or whatever.”
The advocates of the helpline undergo extensive training and are taught to ask specific questions to make the best referrals and the appropriate responses. Their training also includes trauma informed response and knowing the available resources in and around Richmond.
“Nationally there have been several studies done among LGBTQ and sexual minority groups that have identified that sexual violence and intimate partner violence occur at rates among the LGBTQ communities at equal or higher rates than in heterosexual communities and relationships,” McCord said.
According to McCord big steps forward are bringing on great change for the LGBTQ community. The National Coalition Anti-Violence Programs released a study in October about violence among LGBTQ communities across the nation.
“They found that folks that identify as LGBTQ are actually seeking help from mainstream service providers and getting help in rates that are higher than they’ve ever been before,” McCord said. “The tide is turning for the better but gaps still exists and that is what the helpline is meant to fill.”
Another service being offered is free Healthy Relationships Skills Classes which are offered in different formats in a variety of locations around the city and are open to anyone in the LGBTQ community. One of these workshop classes will be held on Thurs. Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Fan Free Clinic auditorium.
Smalls said direct advocacy services including: safety planning, and assistance in finding resources and solutions in a supportive, affirming environment, could also be set up by calling the helpline or contacting her directly.
“Specifically, what Virginia Anti-Violence Project is doing is looking to start these conversations and let folks know that we are here and if they are needing advocacy services that we are available,” Small said.
More information on the helpline or other services being offered could be found on the Virginia Anti-Violence Project and Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance websites.
The number for the helpline is 1-866-356-6998 and is open Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m-8 p.m.
The helpline is toll free and is in the process of becoming 24-hours in the immediate future.
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