Since 1977, Women’s Resource Center (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. The main WRC facility is still located in downtown Newport, at 114 Touro Street, a second office in Warren, at 624 Main Street and our third location is at the Florence Center where our prevention team is housed
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 on how 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 where they could go for help.
In Rhode Island, that changed in 1977 with the founding of the Newport County Women’s Resource Center. 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 Newport County Women’s Resource Center decided this would be its main focus. In 1989, the Center opened a walk-in office in Tiverton followed by opening an office in Warren and at the same time shortened its name to be inclusive of Newport & Bristol Counties to the Women’s Resource Center However, in the late 1990s both offices closed due to the lack of funding. Then in 2000s the Center reopened a office in Warren located at 624 Main Street where we still are today.
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 Women’s Resource Center joined with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence whose focus was to work with local and state police and the court system to help protect victims and seek punishment and rehabilitation for perpetrators.
Today, the WRC provides assistance for victims in a number of ways:
- Helping to 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
- Counseling for adults
- Support clients with DHS services through the Family Violence Advocacy Program
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.”
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, cyber bullying has become a greater problem. Education is of the upmost importance for victims. It has become very easy for the abuser to put tracking programs on phones without the client knowing.
“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.