How do you know if you are in a domestic violence situation?
What do you do once you realize you are in one?
How can you help someone you know who might be in one?
All of these questions, and more, were answered at the Child & Family Center’s Domestic Violence Symposium on Tuesday, the first such event that the organization has held, as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“This is the first one and we hope, year after year, it grows so that we can continue to educate our community,” said Nikki Buckstead, CEO of Child & Family Center.
Buckstead said that the Child & Family Center acquired the Santa Clarita domestic violence program in 2018 and has taken over the shelter ever since.
The organization offers services throughout the entire process of escaping a domestic violence situation.
“We have a 24-hour hotline. People can call in anytime,” Buckstead said. “It could be someone who is needing to leave right now and escape a situation, or maybe they just have questions and they’re wondering, ‘Am I in a domestic violence situation?’ Or, ‘These are some red flags that I’m seeing and am I able to talk to someone professionally about it?’ Obviously, we have Santa Clarita’s only domestic violence shelter. And so we’re able to put kids and families and individuals in there that are fleeing a dangerous situation. Then we also provide group counseling, individual counseling, case management, court advocacy. We can help them figure out how to file a restraining order. We provide educational classes. So, it’s a really long list of things.”
The event featured five panelists, all of whom spoke on a different part of the process of escaping a domestic violence situation: Tiffany Thomas, division director of specialty programs; Desiree Trippler, marriage and family therapist; Chelsea Young, marriage and family therapist; Jaime Piscione, vice president of programs and services; and Sgt. Keith Greene of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
Thomas and Trippler focused on how to tell if someone is in a domestic violence situation. The two described the different ways that an abuser can affect a victim — verbally, physically, financially, etc.
“It might be emotional, it could be name calling (turning) into jealousy, stalking,” Thomas said. said. “It might also be financial, so it could be picking a fight or doing something to interfere with a partner’s ability to go to work and make money. It could be technological … It could be sexual, so any behavior that’s not consensual.”
Children who are witnesses to domestic violence can be affected both in the short term and over a long period of time, according to Young. In the short term, children can have their social growth stunted and become less independent. Later in life, children — or even adults, at this point — can hear or smell something that triggers a memory of domestic violence from their youth and causes them to be in sudden anguish.
“For example,” Young said, “if you have a child who is growing up in a home where there is pervasive violence, and the majority of the violence takes place in the morning, and there’s always coffee brewing, that child may subconsciously encode the smell of coffee, the sound of the beans, the drip of the machine, as something scary. And so then later in their life, they’re in a Starbucks, and they smell the espresso, and they absolutely freak out. Because in their little mind, they think that something really, really bad is gonna happen.”
When it comes to escaping a domestic violence situation, Greene emphasized the importance of filing a report with the Sheriff’s Department. When a domestic violence call is made, deputies will interview both parties, as well as any witnesses, before sending the report to the District Attorney’s office. The DAs office will then determine whether to press charges.
“During the incident, the No. 1 priority is going to be the safety of the survivor,” Greene said. “So that means either creating space, going into a different room if possible, somehow getting to the phone and calling 911.”
Calling 911 while with the abuser can create further problems, Greene said. He recommended removing yourself from the situation before calling and then providing as much detail to the dispatcher as possible.
Greene said that deputies will also offer an emergency protective order to the victim, essentially a restraining order, that is valid for five court days or seven calendar days. A temporary restraining order can then be pursued at the Chatsworth courthouse, and the Sheriff’s Department personnel inside of the courthouse can then help with serving the order.
The TPO is valid until a restraining order court hearing can be held.
Piscione focused on the different resources that are available to victims of domestic violence.
One of those is the Child & Family Center’s 24/7 Domestic Violence Hotline, which can be reached at 661-259-8175. The Los Angeles County 24/7 Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-978-3600.
She then talked about how victims can be abused without their knowledge, such as via tracking a cell phone or car or having access to social media accounts.
“Becoming knowledgeable about those resources and turning them off or deleting applications that aren’t necessary can also be very key,” Piscione said.
For those who are seeking to leave a domestic violence situation quickly, Piscione recommended having a to-go bag with essential items — clothes, money, keys, etc. — ready in a safe place for when the victim to finally ready to go.
She also gave some tips for friends of domestic violence victims.
“Don’t be afraid to let the person know that you are concerned for them, and for their safety. It’s important to listen,” Piscione said. “You can remind the person of their strengths and the good things about themselves. Most likely, their partner is saying the exact opposite. So, it’s great to be able to build up their self-esteem.”
According to Buckstead, the Child & Family Center serves over 950 people per month. And while she is sad that these services have to be offered to so many people, seeing survivors — those who successfully escape a domestic violence situation — and families enjoying life makes her happy.
“When you see a child smile when they’re leaving the center. When you hear how they’re thriving from the services that we’ve been able to provide to them,” Buckstead said. “Any way that we can provide that positive impact on a kid or a family, in the long run, is going to help not just that kid or the family, but it’s going to help the community.”
The Child & Family Center is located at 21545 Centre Pointe Parkway. For more information on the organization, visit childfamilycenter.org.