BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Lee County has seen an uptick in calls for domestic violence services since the state started reopening following this spring’s closures due to COVID-19.
Alta Medea-Peters, Director for Community Engagement for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in southeast Iowa, said Lee County has seen a doubling of services for individual in need for the same number of people and a 28% increase in hotline calls since the Governor Kim Reynolds started reopening the state in phases back in May.
“Some call this the secondary pandemic, or silent pandemic,” Peters said. “People were isolated and stuck at home and then there was the additional stress of jobs and poverty. The part that struck me most about Lee County was we had a doubling in services provided to the same number of people.”
Medea-Peters said there were slight upticks in services provided other counties in the eight-county region the DVIP provides services for, but Lee County was the biggest jump per person.
She has been the community engagement director for the past three years. and said the increase in services needed makes sense with the shut downs and economic impact of the coronavirus on Iowans’ lives.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Medea-Peters said awareness needs to be created that violence isn’t always against women, She said 1 in 10 men will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime, and although claims by women make up the majority of the advocacy efforts, DVIP provides services to men, women, children and even pets.
Medea-Peters said one of the main reasons people won’t leave a violent home is because of fear of what will happen to the pets.
DVIP has a limited space called the Cooper House at the emergency shelter in Iowa City for pets, but also is fully engaged in pet fostering as a way to fully serve those who need to get out of violent situations.
That 40-bed emergency shelter is the only one in an 8-county region that includes Des Moines, Lee, Henry, Van Buren, Johnson, Washington, Iowa and Cedar counties.
DVIP started in southeast Iowa 41 years ago and is part of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The group’s sole focus is to advocate for adult and youth victims of intimate partner violence, more commonly known as domestic or dating violence, stalking and trafficking.
Services are free and confidential and start with a simple phone call to the group’s hotline at 1-800-373-1043. Advocacy services within the criminal justice and human services systems are just part what the 35-member team does for victims.
Medea-Peters said the shelter in Iowa City is full 365 days a year with an average length of stay of 46 days. She said with that high demand advocacy also has to include hotel stays for crisis situations and 24-hour intervention to help victims get to a safe place.
As part of the awareness month, DVIP has been doing outreach events, but DVIP COVID-19 protocols prohibit staff from moving out of their respective areas, unless serving clients directly so a lot of zoom meetings and reaching out to local volunteers is part of the process going forward.
One of those events was held at Fareway over the weekend. Fort Madison’s Rebecca Bowker, an executive officer at Iowa State Penitentiary hosted the event and is also encouraging anyone who missed the supply donation at the grocer to drop any donated items off to her at ISP or at 827 Avenue H throughout the month.
Items needed include diapers, deodorant, toothpaste, gift cards, shampoo, things Medea-Peters said victims don’t think about when they are fleeing. The group also needs financial support.
“When thinking about what a dollar provides, $75 provides a safe emergency stay at hotel when our emergency shelter is full,” she said.
“A $40 donation provides a tank of gas for our advocates to travel around our rural communities to meet people where they are. Whatever time is safest, and that has a huge impact. Just $30 provides victim survivors with a night of safety in our emergency shelter.”
Despite the COVID fears, Medea-Peters said advocacy happens locally within the region.
“I like to share that with our communities that aren’t here in Iowa city. Those advocates are from your area. They are at the courthouse when you need them to be and meet with you when it’s safe for you,” she said.
“We walk along side them. The best way to describe what we do is to say that we are here to help walk them home. Whether that’s through the court system, with law enforcement, their safety, or leaving the area. Problem solving is what DVIP advocates excel at.”
The group is also holding a Virtual Trivia Night @ Andrew’s Bar Exam on Tuesday Oct. 20th at 7 p.m.. More information about the night can be found on the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/iowadvip.
For additional information on DVIP’s October Awareness Month click on the following link: https://www.pencitycurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Proclamation-General-DVAM-2020-Info-Calendar-.pdf