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HILLSVILLE — A Girl Scout working on her Gold Award recently launched a project to help victims of domestic violence at the Family Resource Center in Wytheville.
Wendy Burcham shared findings from her research into domestic violence with a group from the Department of Social Services in Carroll County, and talked about the work she has undertaken to improve the situation for those in the shelter.
(Burcham's mother, Peggy, works in social services.)
"I'm going to work with the Family Resource Center to help provide a self-expression outlet for the women in the shelter and help them have just some fun when their lives are full of pain," Wendy Burcham explained to her audience in the board of supervisors meeting room.
Domestic violence — physical abuse or threats leveled against one household member by another — happens to one in every four women.
That means 3,307 women in Carroll County are likely to be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes, Burcham said.
Unfortunately, an abuser found guilty of domestic violence can receive a lesser penalty than some other petty crimes, she said. Stealing mail, for example.
"If you tamper with a mailbox, it's counted as a felony," Burcham said. "You can abuse a person and get off with probation, but if you tamper with the mailbox, you can get jail time."
That doesn't seem right to Burcham. It's another challenge that victims face, which makes it difficult to get away from abusers.
Words become weapons for abusers — they use harsh words to wear down the self-esteem of the victim, Burcham said.
"When you feel worthless and you have no self-esteem, it's very hard for you to get out of the situation that you're in," she said.
Words can cause pain, but they leave no mark, so victims can't prove that they've been abused to authorities, Burcham noted.
Domestic violence is a vicious cycle that starts with humiliation of the victim with harsh words and threats and is followed by an explosion of rage from the abuser over something insignificant, she explained. This explosion culminates in physical abuse.
Then, the abuser will ask for forgiveness in the reconciliation stage, which leads to the cycle starting all over again, she said. "Most women drop charges in this stage."
As time goes on, victims find themselves more and more isolated as the abuser seeks to sever the victim's connections with family and friends.
Eventually, the victim finds the abuser is the only person in their life, and the victim has nowhere else to go, she said.
The abuser takes over the accounts and the car titles, leaving the victim no means of escape.
If the victim does try to leave, the danger of violence increases by 70 percent, because the abuser fears a loss of control, Burcham said.
Often, the Family Resource Center becomes the only way to escape the destructive relationship, she said. It's a safe place available to women in need.
Women in the shelter have been beaten down and could become depressed, so Burcham plans to launch an effort in June to provide a boost for them.
This includes a craft night, led by an artist that draws pictures to music, Burcham said. The artist will show them ways to relieve their stress by drawing and give them an outlet for their pain.
Other activities include a resume writing session, so they can regain control of their lives by getting a job and earning a paycheck; tips on how to prepare healthy meals while stretching dollars; making bracelets to sell as a fund-raising activity for the shelter; and fun activities like crocheting.
One of the other Girl Scouts in Burcham's troop is working on building new bunk beds for the shelter, which led to another project idea.
A lot of the bedding smells because it is old and worn, so the Girl Scouts felt it would be good to get new quilts and bedding for the residents, Burcham explained.
Materials and supplies are needed for crafting and for the book for the shelter residents express their feelings, she said. Donations of lumber would be helpful for the other Girl Scout project at the shelter.
Social Services Director Mike Jennings hoped that others would get involved, too.
He wondered if churches and community groups would participate in making quilts for the shelter.
He also felt Burcham's presentation was an important one for people to hear and that he was quite impressed by it
"It's not very often that we interact with some the young folks in our community and I think I've lost touch with just how smart they really are," Jennings said.
• Those interested in helping can contact Burcham by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 728-7182.