Victoria Council Hears the Growing Need for Domestic Violence Services; approves additional funding

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By JAMES BELL
Post Hays

VICTORIA — At the June meeting of Victoria City Council, Jennifer Hecker, Executive Director of Domestic and Sexual Violence Options Services, and Anna Townes, Operations Specialist, shared an annual update with the advice.

Although Hecker had positive updates on the organization’s work to help those in need, she said the need for their services had increased significantly.

“We are seeing a tragic increase in the incidence of domestic violence over the past few years,” Hecker said. “This trend continues to increase.”

Last year, she said 167 incidents of domestic violence were reported to law enforcement in Ellis County, resulting in 127 arrests.

“That’s a great arrest rate, especially in a state that has an arrest warrant,” Hecker said. “You can see that’s almost twice the average for arrests versus reports.”

In total, she said the group provided approximately 3,200 domestic violence services to residents of Ellis County.

Hecker then shared the work the group has done to improve its ability to help victims of domestic violence.

“Last year we were talking about a brand new service, our global advocacy services, that we were rolling out,” Hecker said. “Options has become the first domestic and sexual violence program in the state of Kansas to offer a free text message hotline.”

The service offers different ways to seek help, she said, using a mobile phone app, standard text messaging and messaging on their website.

“Last year when we arrived, we had just launched this service,” Hecker said. “We had about 46 people contacting us. This year it has increased by about 3,000%. Over 1,200 people have used our SMS functionality. And so we know it’s going to grow.

Jennifer Hecker / File Photo
Jennifer Hecker / File Photo

This year, she said there was more demand for safety planning than ever before.

Housing demand is also higher than ever.

While the need is on the rise, she said the shelter is only operating at 50% capacity due to COVID concerns.

“And so, because we have a policy of never turning anyone away, if it’s in our power to do so, we’re going to overwhelm people in a hotel,” Hecker said. “And so when our shelter is full, those expenses have increased quite exponentially over the last few years.”

Last year, $25,000 was spent on accommodation services, compared to $16,000 the year before, she said.

“It’s just the total cost when we put people in hotels that cost us three or four times as much… [than] take care of them at a shelter itself,” Hecker said. “And so when budgets are tight and you’re not able to use the capacity that you have, and things cost four times as much, it becomes quite difficult to make sure that we’re still in able to provide these services.”

While she shared her appreciation for the support provided by governments in the region, increased demand and policy changes at the federal level mean local funding is more critical than ever.

“Your support really helps us ensure that we can continue to provide everyone with the services they need, we don’t have to divert anyone from this service and there is shelter available for everyone every whenever he needs it,” Hecker said.

Hecker also shared with the board recent efforts to create a student advisory council that will expand to Victoria High School.

“I know our outreach advocate has been working with some of the school counselors on how to engage these students in understanding healthy relationships,” Hecker said. “So far, our teen advisory committee is working on a teen safety plan – for teens, by teens, about how to be safe in a relationship, if things aren’t going well, and how to plan for safety if you are experiencing domestic difficulties violence in your home.

“They also drafted a human trafficking awareness law,” she continued. “Several other things as well. So they are very, very committed. And we’re excited to extend that to Victoria High School. So stay tuned. I think we’ve volunteered close to 500 hours this year alone. Great future leaders for our community, that’s for sure.

At the end of the report, board member Ryan Lichter said he would support increased support for the group.

“I feel the need to offer maybe a little bit more than what we have in the past due to the fact that all we’re going through is more,” he said. “I mean, if you’re already on your budget, as it is right now, a little more help would be good.”

“We certainly made very good use of it, of course,” Hecker said.

Lichter offered to double the support funding for a total of $2,000. Council member Harland Rupp made a motion on the matter and Lichter made a second.

The increase was passed by the board unanimously.

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