Community needs awareness, money to deal with violence

March 09, 2000

Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, or CASA, is a Hagerstown agency that offers assistance to individuals and families in crisis.

CASA provides shelter and counseling for people threatened by domestic violence and an intervention program for abusers.

Representatives from CASA also serve on the Washington County Family Violence Council, and cooperate with area police to reach people threatened by abuse, said Executive Director Vicki Sadehvandi.

Other services offered by the agency include: a displaced homemaker program; rape crisis program; incest survivor support; homeless women and children program; legal advocacy; and a children's program.

CASA's 24-hour hotline at 301-739-8975 (301-739-1012 TTY) provides confidential counseling and referrals.

Call 301-739-4990 for more information.


Helping domestic violence victims and their abusers isn't easy and those who try say raising community awareness is necessary if their efforts are to succeed.


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When Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, known as CASA, launched its domestic violence program in 1977, domestic abuse wasn't considered a real problem.

CASA workers were considered "radical feminists," said CASA Executive Director Vicki Sadehvandi said.

But they spent 22 years working with the community, and are now viewed "as an agency ready to deal with a real problem," Sadehvandi said.

Those who work to ease domestic violence say that in addition to raising community awareness, other steps must be taken to encourage victims to seek help and to support service providers:

* Legislators must create domestic violence laws.

* Courts must enforce those laws.

* Police must respond aggressively to domestic violence calls and refer victims and abusers to service providers.

* Sufficient funding must be available.

Counselors find themselves trying to help victims who are sometimes more afraid to leave than they are to stay in abusive relationships.

CASA and the Catoctin Counseling Center, both in Hagerstown, also face the daunting task of counseling batterers, who must first admit they have a problem and then commit to intensive programs to change deeply embedded behavior patterns.

"Domestic violence is a complex problem," said Clinical Therapist Larry Stouter, founder of Catoctin Counseling Center.

Advocates have tracked statistics and lobbied for laws that fight domestic violence, Sadehvandi said.

They've networked with police and judicial officers, who traditionally considered the issue a "family matter," to encourage more sensitivity, aggressive investigative techniques and full enforcement of existing laws, she said.

There is only one way to truly solve the problem of domestic violence, said Trooper Daniel Hoffman, regional family violence coordinator for the Maryland State Police.

"You have to change the people. And they have to want to change," he said.

A woman returns to her batterer an average of six or eight times before she walks out for good, Sadehvandi said.

Victims often are financially dependent on their abusive partners and lack self-esteem and extended support systems, she said.

They blame themselves, and are afraid to call for help because they fear their abuser might be arrested but not held, she said.

"There is going to be a price to pay because he's going to blame her" for trouble with the law, Sadehvandi said.

"We're doing a better job at educating the public to the problem and the services available, but I think society is also becoming more violent," she said.

She said CASA is finding that men are becoming abusers at a younger age.

Most batterers who attend programs at CASA or Catoctin are referred by judges, parole and probation officers and defense attorneys, Stouter said.

Batterers who volunteer for counseling "typically don't make it through the program because it's just too emotionally demanding," Stouter said. "All the family secrets are talked about."

Catoctin's 24-week batterers' program mirrors CASA's abuser intervention group, Stouter said.

Abusers are counseled about the cycle of violence and the negative impact of violence on their partners and children. Emphasis is placed on learning alternative behaviors to violence and abuse, according to information from CASA.

'Violence works'

Changing behavior is not easy, Stouter and Sadehvandi said.

Most abusers reject authority and don't know how to relate to other people, Stouter said.

"Violence works," he said.

Counselors must demonstrate the advantages of change, and provide programs in which the batterer does not feel threatened by authority figures, he said.

The 24-week program can help abusers who use violence to get what they want, as well as those batterers who aren't aware they have a problem until they snap, Stouter said.

Some question whether 24 weeks is long enough to change lifelong behavior patterns, Sadehvandi said.

California requires abusers to undergo a 52-week program, and there is some movement to standardize interventions, Stouter said.

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