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Stand Strong encourages the community to come together to prevent intimate partner violence 

Domestic, sexual, and dating violence have traditionally been treated as a women's issue—as a private issue.

"This is not just about women," Stand Strong Executive Director Kirsten Rambo said. "This problem isn't going to change unless we work on prevention."

As part of its prevention work, Stand Strong (formerly known as the Women's Shelter of San Luis Obispo County) is hosting speaker Jackson Katz on Oct. 15 as one of several events during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Katz, who's written and produced films on the topic, is a follow-up to the Women's Legacy Fund Luncheon on Sept. 27, where speaker Ted Bunch from A Call to Men addressed some of the social structure that can lead to men abusing women. Katz, Rambo said, will hopefully address what comes next.

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The choice to have men speak stems from a need for people to see that domestic violence isn't just about women—and it's not just something that happens within the confines of a home. It's about women, yes, but it's about men, teenagers, and children, too. And while it can be something that happens within the walls of a family home, if it's happening on your street, in your neighborhood or town, Rambo explained, it's a community problem and should be a community conversation.

"Our prevention work is all about going upstream and really trying to start a culture shift," Rambo said. "We want this [SLO County] to be a place where we are actively trying to create the community we want."

Changing culture, she said, starts by talking about intimate partner violence at a young age. In some ways, she said, the younger the better. So with the help of a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control DELTA (Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancements and Leadership Through Alliances) Impact Program, Stand Strong is partnering with local high schools to launch Coaching Boys into Men. It focuses on high school athletes, who Rambo said are often leaders in their high school community, to help lead a conversation about the issue.

"What it's like to be a girl/boy or what it means to be in a relationship ... the messages that they're getting about how to be in this world," Rambo said.

The prevention grant isn't just targeted at males, though. Rambo said that Stand Strong would also like to work with female high school athletes as well. The goal is to spread awareness about the issue so people start talking about how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Karen Borges, Stand Strong's development and communications director, said it's shocking how many people suffer from intimate partner violence. According to the 2016 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men were victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

"So I look at my friend group and think, 'What don't I know,'" Borges said.

Stand Strong's main purpose is to provide services to victims of intimate partner violence. The nonprofit has a shelter for victims who have nowhere else to go, but it also provides a 24-hour crisis and information line, legal help, counseling, a food and goods pantry, financial advice, and transitional housing, among other things.

click to enlarge ROCKS OF EMPOWERMENT Therapeutic art is one way that Stand Strong tries to help victims of intimate partner violence—children and adults—sort through the trauma they've experienced. - PHOTO COURTESY OF STAND STRONG
  • Photo Courtesy Of Stand Strong
  • ROCKS OF EMPOWERMENT Therapeutic art is one way that Stand Strong tries to help victims of intimate partner violence—children and adults—sort through the trauma they've experienced.

Rambo said while about 10 to 11 percent of Stand Strong's clients need the safe house/shelter because they're in crisis and don't have anywhere else to go, 90 percent of the nonprofit's clients utilize its other services. Recently, the nonprofit received two additional grants to help with the legal services it provides pro-bono to clients in civil matters related to abuse (things such as restraining orders) and to help with the cost of providing 10 units of transitional housing to clients who are trying to rebuild their lives.

"Financial abuse is a huge part of domestic violence," Rambo said, adding that victims often have limited resources due to the abuser's control over their lives. "There are lots of barriers. Our transitional housing program is looking at what those are, setting goals to try to overcome those barriers."

That includes helping clients repair their credit, obtain more education, create job goals, and find an income stream. A lot of what Stand Strong tries to do is help clients see past their crisis and into the future—to help them rebuild their lives. Rambo said Stand Strong's adult and children's therapeutic art program is one of the things that can help clients visualize the future.

It encapsulates what people are going through and what they are feeling. On Oct. 5, Yarns at the Adobe in SLO will host Journey to Healing, an exhibit of Stand Strong clients' work, for Art after Dark.

"It's about facing the trauma and working through it," Rambo said. "So much of our therapeutic work, is looking forward to the future and defining what do you want it to look like." Δ

Reach Editor Camillia Lanham at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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