Mountain View Voice

News - January 1, 2010

Holiday Fund: Haven for domestic violence victims

Support Network offers women a safe place to recover

by Kelsey Mesher

The holiday season can make a bad situation even worse for a battered woman, say staff members at Support Network, a Sunnyvale organization dedicated to supporting women and children who are victims of domestic violence. With private donations, and community partners, such as the Voice Holiday Fund, Support Network provides the services and guidance a woman needs to free herself from an abusive situation.

"Really, emotionally, our clients are struggling right now," said Denise Henderson, director of clinical services, who works with women on a day-to-day basis. With children out of school, and an emphasis on spending even more time with family, "(the holidays) can be very discouraging."

Support Network provides an outlet for women and children who may suffer from verbal, physical, emotional, psychological or other abuse. The organization strives to back up its name with action, offering a variety of services including a crisis hotline, counseling, therapy, legal advocacy and a physical shelter, all meant to offer support to women when they need it.

"We believe that women know what they need to create a family," Henderson said, adding that they do not intervene in homes or pretend to be "experts" in others' lives. "We support her to create a plan for what she wants to do next."

Henderson said while some clients walk through Support Network's office doors on Tasman Avenue, most pick up the phone and call the crisis hotline first.

"That's usually the first step, to make that call," she said. Once a staff member has a woman on the phone, he or she will determine what kind of support services the caller may need.

"We've had women call when they've been barricaded in a room," said Laura Chyou, director of development and communications. "If they're in immediate danger, then we encourage them to call the police."

For women who suffer from emotional or psychological abuse, Henderson said, seeking help early is just as important.

"That really damages a woman's spirit; it can take a long time to heal," she said, adding that it is often difficult to accept the behavior as abusive. "It's hard to think that the person who's supposed to take care of you, who's supposed to love you the most in the world, could cause you so much pain."

"It's hard to leave, and leaving is the most dangerous part for a woman," she said.

Henderson said the clients they see come from diverse backgrounds, most from within Santa Clara County.

"People think it's a low-income problem, but it's not," she said.

Since the economic downturn, Chyou said, more clients than ever are experiencing domestic violence. Financial pressures can change the home environment, for families of any socioeconomic background, she said.

Almost all services provided by the organization are free, she said, with the exception of therapy — though cost is never a determining factor in end.

Last fiscal year, Support Network took just over 7,000 crisis calls, and assisted 1,185 clients. Some 220 families lived in its apartment-style shelter, which is almost always at full capacity.

The organization works with other agencies when its shelter is full.

"Nobody is ever turned away," Chyou said. "We will find them a place."

Support Network's 24-hour crisis line is 1-800-572-2782.

E-mail Kelsey Mesher at kmesher@mv-voice.com ?? ?? ?? ??

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