COMMENTARY: DOVE Project helps survivors of domestic violence find hope

The DOVE Project exists to provide support and hope to survivors of domestic violence.

I used to think that domestic violence was a relic of the past.

I thought it was rare these days, tragic but uncommon. I was wrong. Four years ago, I joined the DOVE Project board of directors, because my friend had taken on the executive director role, and I knew this cause meant so much to her. And as I learned and listened, it became glaringly obvious — domestic violence is very much alive and well in the United States, in the Pacific Northwest, and right here on Vashon Island.

It’s not limited to any one demographic. It happens in all sorts of families and relationships, rich, poor, white, black, brown, straight, gay, everywhere. And it hides — behind smiling faces, polished appearances, gaslighting, failed systems and lack of services.

As the horrific story of Gabby Petito has unfolded in the last week, we have seen this failure all too clearly. Add to this a global pandemic that has shed a blinding light on scarcity of resources, and the desperation that was once hiding behind closed doors is starting to be seen because help is needed now more than ever. And it might feel hopeless. But there is hope.

The DOVE Project exists to provide hope. A lifeline. DOVE stands for Dignity, Opportunity, Voice and Empowerment.

The DOVE Project holds a safe place for people to tell their stories. To be heard and validated and understood. Add to that danger assessment, safety planning, legal help, access to English and Spanish language services, short-term emergency shelter, public assistance support, to-go bags, reproductive health support and resources, support for specialized private therapy, online support groups, loans of mobile phones and computers, referrals to trusted doctors, referrals to therapists and social service teams, the list goes on and on and on. And that’s just the advocacy work!

There’s so much more, from DOVE’s lunchboxes program in the middle school to DOVE Teen Council and many holistic health offerings for the community. The reach is vast and it is so needed.

DOVE fills a unique need in a unique place. Up until 2008, our island had no local support for survivors of abuse. Our only option was the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network, which meant a ferry ride to Seattle. And yeah, it’s a short ride, but you throw in the ferry lines, traffic in the city, the expense of a ferry ride, and that makes the whole process of seeking support fairly challenging. And if you are relying on public transportation, that’s easily a full-day affair. And that just isn’t reasonable. If you have to work, if you have a partner who controls your time or finances, help can get beyond your reach pretty quickly.

In 2010, a Seattle anthropologist conducted a critical context survey to determine the most pressing social problems on our little island. Domestic violence (DV) came in at number two. A task force, consisting of King County service providers, gathered data regarding DV on Vashon and found the number of survivors accessing services had dropped from 65 per year, during a short window when we had local services, to 12 per year in 2010 when no local services were available. The task force findings and the survey results acted as a catalyst, and DOVE was born. What started out as a tote bag full of files and a flip phone has grown in a way no one could have anticipated. In 2013, the year DOVE received its 501c3 status, it supported 43 people.

In 2020, DOVE provided advocacy to 512 individuals. 512 neighbors. 512 friends. And every year the reach grows, including increasing service numbers for teens, seniors and those who identify as LGBTQ+(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer/Questioning and more). Interpersonal violence can affect anyone, no matter their age, race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. And the unfortunate fact is, in a worldwide pandemic, the harm is even greater.

COVID has significantly impacted the lives of people living with abuse. Survivors have less freedom, less access to support, and less financial stability. Imagine being in quarantine with a partner who behaves abusively. Rates of domestic violence are increasing across the world, and we have seen similar increases in King County and right here on Vashon Island. DOVE advocates are seeing more survivors than ever before, and unfortunately, the risk factors for lethality have also increased.

The DOVE advocates have needed to find new and innovative ways to support survivors. They’re forced to be very creative right now, adjusting as things are constantly changing. What used to take one hour now takes four, as they strategize how to get people the services they need in a very unstable environment. And yet DOVE has managed to keep the lights on. It can be a long journey towards healing, and having an advocate sharing that journey is a powerful support to survivors.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and DOVE is pulling out the stops. Every night our town will be lit up with purple light, as island businesses show support for survivors through the “We Believe Survivors” campaign.

Check out DOVE’s Beachcomber ad to see all that’s offered — you can visit DOVE’s survivor art exhibit, attend a community event, bid on the Share Hope virtual art auction, donate, and most of all spread the word that DOVE is here and offers hope for all of us.

Tami Brockway Joyce is a member of the board of the DOVE Project.