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SARATOGA SPRINGS – Domestic violence is the number two violent crime in Saratoga County, the primary cause of family homelessness, and one of the top two causes of homicide. In fact, from 2010 to 2013, 100 percent of homicides in Saratoga County were because of domestic violence.
According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in their life. As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is key to look at the statistics and learn about how domestic abuse affects our loved ones, our society and even ourselves.
Wellspring is a fully comprehensive relationship and sexual abuse service for Saratoga County. Previously called Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services for Saratoga County (DVRC), Wellspring helps victims of domestic violence, while simultaneously providing prevention education for the community.
“We have so many services that can help people before a crisis and that can avert a crisis,” said Maggie Fronk, the Executive Director of Wellspring for the past 14 years. “With our other name, it said “crisis” so many people didn’t think they could come in until after the crisis. Wellspring is really promoting all of the things we do to help people be safe, and ultimately, avoid that crisis.”
The vision for Wellspring is a Saratoga County free of abuse, and awareness is vital to that vision. Domestic violence is more prevalent in the community than anyone realizes, and it’s much more than physical abuse. Domestic violence can manifest as emotional abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, economic abuse and psychological abuse. These many forms of domestic violence often occur together.
“I think one of the biggest myths is that domestic violence is only physical. It can be, yet there can be highly abusive relationships that have no physical abuse at all,” said Fronk.
A stereotype exists that domestic violence only happens to certain people. In reality, all socio-economic groups, all races, all religions and all genders are affected by domestic violence. According to Fronk, this stereotype may exist because domestic violence is a crime that happens in the home, outside of public view.
It is never easy to make the first step in reaching out for help, but Wellspring tries to make it uncomplicated and nonintimidating.
“Just call and make an appointment, or if need be, just walk in the door. All our services are free and confidential,” said Fronk. “We respond to what your needs are. One person might come in and be ready to leave the abuse, go to a shelter and get an order of protection. Another person may just want to talk about what’s happening and find out if it is an abusive relationship. It is driven by the needs of whoever is walking in our door for help.”
Helping over 1,000 people per year, Wellspring prioritizes what each individual needs and wants at that time, acknowledging that it is different for everyone. No one is going to be rushed to leave their abuser or pressured into steps they are not ready for. The only commonality for everyone is that they are going to be talked to about safety options, so they can be safe with whatever choice they make. There will be customized, individualized safety planning for anyone who comes into Wellspring.
One anonymous survivor who has been helped by Wellspring said, “[Wellspring] supported me and helped me when I was going through a very tough moment in my life. They were there for me when I needed someone to talk to, to advise me how to get help, supporting me during the court days. The staff was also always nice and helpful with my son. They made our stay as easy as possible. They supported us with summer camp for day care when I could not afford it so I could keep working.”
The array of services Wellsprings provides is vast. Whether someone needs counseling, legal counseling or case management, the resources are available. There are even advocates that can accompany victims to the police or to court.
Financial security is a terrifying thought for many who want to leave a violent relationship. Victims are afraid they won’t be able to support themselves and their children after leaving their abuser. Wellspring offers an eight-week financial literacy program that covers everything from knowing your assets and rights with money, to budgeting, to getting a job and growing in that career. It also helps people apply for public assistance, such as SNAP, for temporarily relief during a difficult period to get survivors back on their feet.
Wellspring has shelter and housing opportunities readily accessible. The shelter is in an undisclosed location in the county, ensuring safety and privacy.
“Some people might be coming in [to the shelter] for a few days, letting things settle down at home. Other times, they might be ready to totally change their life and have no idea where to start. Either one of those is fine,” explained Fronk. It is important to note that children and parents stay together in the shelter.
If victims still need help with housing after leaving a shelter, there is an affordable housing program with subsidized rent and support services.
Shelter is not only provided for people, either. Pets are often used as tools of coercion and control, keeping victims trapped in abusive situations. Abusers may threaten to harm or kill pets if the victim tries to leave. In turn, Wellspring developed the Safe Pet Partnership, which provides loving foster homes for all pets while a victim goes into a shelter and receives the help they need. When they are ready, families are then reunited with their pets. This program has fostered hamsters, fish, cats, dogs, and even horses, taking away the worry about pet safety when escaping domestic violence.
While Wellspring deals directly with healing and supporting victims of abuse, as well as their family, friends and pets, they are very much involved in preventing domestic violence in the first place. Wellspring’s awareness programs visit local schools, businesses and community organizations to teach about domestic violence, including what to look for and what to do if you think you or a friend may be a victim. An emphasis is put on being an active bystander, saying or doing something about it when you see violence happening.
“When you start at the high school level, you can stop this behavior from progressing into adulthood and escalating. The point is to get ahead of this,” said Fronk.
Wellspring makes getting help comfortable, inviting and shame-free. By providing a wide range of awareness, education and victim services, they are making help for domestic violence more accessible to everyone. Fronk says it perfectly: “You are not alone in this.”
If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, or even suspects abuse, call Wellspring’s 24-hour hotline at 518-584-8188. Wellspring is located at 480 Broadway, downstairs in the Collamer building, next door to City Hall. For more information or to donate to Wellspring, visit Wellspringcares.org.