When relationships turn abusive and violent, it is important to have outside support. That’s where the Women’s Resource Center comes in. Since 1977, WRC has been a listening ear, a helping hand and in some cases, a lifeline to individuals experiencing domestic violence.
The overarching goal of WRC is that through education and intervention, there will one day be a world without domestic violence. But, as everyone knows, it’s complicated. Therefore, WRC continues its mission of domestic violence prevention and providing support for victims and their families.
Back in the 1970’s the issue of domestic violence was barely on the public’s radar. When a domestic incident occurred, it was often kept quiet by those involved, out of fear and shame. Police had virtually no training to deal with the problem. When called, they would intervene, but arrests were rare. Restraining orders could be obtained, but the process was intimidating. Victims often felt as if there was no one to turn to and no place they could go for help.
In Rhode Island, that changed in 1977 with the founding of the Women’s Resource Center serving Newport and Bristol Counties. The early WRC began with a handful of committed women staffing phones in a small office in Newport to answer questions about a number of social justice issues. Within a few years, however, it became clear that domestic violence was a key issue that needed to be addressed and that domestic violence victims required specialized help. The WRC decided this would be its main focus.
Christina W. McIntyre, one of WRC’s founders, recalled the development of the WRC’s programs. “We started to see that, as a society, things were changing and people were starting to understand domestic violence more and to talk about it. Victims were more open about coming forward to seek help for themselves and their children, so our programs and services were designed from there.” She noted that this included researching and pursuing available resources at the state and federal level as well as engaging in fundraising.
In the past four decades, there have also been important changes in the legal system pertaining to domestic violence. Until the late 20th century, there were few laws pertaining to the protection of domestic violence victims and punishment of perpetrators. The WRC is fully involved in working with the local and state police and the court system to help protect victims and seek punishment and rehabilitation for perpetrators.
Ms. McIntyre said she is proud to see that the WRC is not only still in existence 40 years later but that it has grown and expanded its reach in both providing services to victims and in pursuing prevention efforts through education. The main WRC facility is still located in downtown Newport, at 114 Touro Street, and there is a second office in Warren, at 624 Main Street.
Lori N. DiPersio, WRC’s executive director, notes the societal shift in the past 40 years to acknowledge the existence of domestic violence across all ages, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and income levels. “While I wish, of course, that domestic violence could be eradicated completely, I am grateful that victims today live in a society where the topic is discussed openly and they can feel less shame and fear about turning to a place like WRC for assistance.”
Today, the WRC provides assistance for victims in a number of ways:
- Helping them obtain temporary restraining orders against perpetrators
- Explaining their rights
- Accompanying them to court
- Helping them find shelter for themselves and their children
- Helping children who witness abuse with counseling
- Training police to deal with the problem
One of the biggest changes in the last few decades is that the WRC provides emergency shelter and temporary housing to domestic violence victims. Finding shelter for victims is an especially important role. While it is best for victims to escape their abusers, it is also the most dangerous point in the relationship. Abusers often go to extremes to prevent victims from leaving and try to track them down after they do leave, sometimes harming them, or even killing them..
With the increasing understanding of domestic violence, WRC began reaching out to entire families, all age groups and members of both genders. It also tries to educate friends and neighbors about the cycle of abuse and how to recognize symptoms. In addition, the growth in knowledge on the part of the public itself is a help for victims as they are better understood and less likely to feel ashamed.
”While women are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men, it’s important to remember that there are male victims, child victims and elderly victims,” adds Ms. DiPersio. “Today, the WRC has the ability to assist individuals in a variety of different ways and to tailor services to fit the specific needs.”
Ms. DiPersio also notes that among the positive changes in the past 40 years is an increase in the number of agencies statewide and nationally that provide domestic violence assistance and prevention services. The WRC embraces and supports many national efforts, and is an active member of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domesic Violence as well as its statewide “sister” agencies.
Ms. DiPersio credits the WRC staff members, both current and former, for their efforts in aiding victims and doing prevention work. “This is hard work because it involves assisting people who are in difficult and often upsetting situations. It can be stressful and emotionally draining, so I truly thank everyone who has been involved with WRC in the past as well as those who helping us move forward.”
The WRC has also expanded its mission in the face of more recent technological and societal changes. For example, with the advent of cell phones and social media, bullying has become a greater problem. The WRC staff members visit local middle and high schools and lead discussions about online bullying, sexting and other negative social behaviors that also constitute abuse.
“The mission of WRC has always been the prevention of domestic violence and to provide support services to individuals in Newport and Bristol Counties. “I’m proud of what WRC has been able to accomplish in the last 40 years and look forward to its continued evolvement in helping victims as well as cutting down on domestic violence incidents,” said Ms. DiPersio.