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Washington County Sheriff's Office and other organizations plan to raise awareness about the issue this month.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Shirts with encouraging messages made my domestic violence survivors and their friends and families during a domestic violence vigil in 2019. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month nationwide.

It can be difficult for people to leave a domestic violence situation, especially during a pandemic.

This October, in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, local law enforcement agencies and organizations are coming together to break the silence of domestic violence. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Family Justice Center in Beaverton is a collaboration of agencies providing support and hope to those impacted by family and intimate partner violence.

One of those agencies is the Domestic Violence Resource Center.

"We have a full continuum of programs and services, emergency shelter, and transitional housing," said the Domestic Violence Resource Center's executive director, Rowie Taylor. "We (also) have permanent housing (and) safety planning."

Other services the center offers include advocacy services, case management protective order assistance, and individual and group counseling.

Taylor says it's important to have a month dedicated to raise awareness about domestic violence because the issue wasn't always highlighted in the past.

"Until the 1970s, we never talked about domestic violence," she explained. "It was a hidden-under-the-table type of horror that existed for women only. It was phenomena that had a lot of support, but it wasn't funded or talked about."

The 1970s is also when women's shelters and federal funding for domestic violence came about, recalled Taylor. She remembers those centers only helping women, so their children had a safe space to go.

"In today's world, we understand that men are also abused," Taylor said. "It's not only a women's issue."

Many people have been spending more time at home this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. For some, that means more time spent in close quarters with an abusive partner, as well as less privacy and personal space.

According to data by the Washington County Sheriff's Office, from April to September, the county saw an uptick in the number of reports with a domestic violence element. The highest number recorded so far this year was 124 reports in June.

Since 2017, the department has had a grand total of 3,447 reports with a domestic violence element.

The Sheriff's Office did note that not all reports involve violence or a threat of violence to a person. For example, an ex-partner vandalizing a victim's vehicle could be taken as a domestic violence-related report.

Domestic abuse can take many forms, the Sheriff's Office warns — including ignoring, denigrating or humiliating a partner, taking away or destroying treasured possessions, physically or sexually assaulting them, or stealing or otherwise preventing them from spending their own money, such as by controlling all household income or taking their bank or credit card information.

Throughout October, the department plans to raise awareness about domestic violence by wearing purple, which is the color designated to the issue.

"When reported, law enforcement officers across the country respond to these dangerous, volatile, and violent incidents," said Cornelius Police Chief John Benett.

Bennett oversees the domestic violence resource team at the Sheriff's Office, which provides policing service in Cornelius through a contract with the city government.

"Bringing awareness to domestic violence is an important mission because domestic violence knows has no boundaries," Bennett said. "Regardless of gender, race, religion, culture, or socio-economic status, domestic violence occurs. Being the first to respond to incidents of domestic violence, law enforcement has a unique chance to intervein and to show survivors that they are not (alone), we will be there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — we are a phone call away."

The Sheriff's Office did record a higher number of domestic violence-related reports during recent months of the coronavirus pandemic. So far this year, a total of 338 reports with a domestic violence element were cleared by arrest.

Bennett says the Sheriff's Office is committed to helping victims during unprecedented times.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging in many ways," he said. "One thing that has remained constant is that law enforcement has continued — and will continue — to respond to calls and protect the communities we serve."

Specific to domestic violence, the Sheriff's Office says it has not changed their response to domestic violence calls for service.

"We remain committed to supporting survivors of domestic violence by providing information regarding resources available from our great community partners like the Domestic Violence Resource Center and the Family Justice Center," added Bennett.

The virus has changed the Domestic Violence Resource Center's way of doing business.

Back in March and April, Taylor says the center's 24-hour crisis line received double the amount of calls, but many weren't domestic violence-related. The calls were people wondering where to get food or rent money during the pandemic.

As for other services, people were hesitant to leave their homes and possibly contract a deadly virus.

"They would almost rather stay where they are and try to deal with things, because they're afraid of shelters and COVID-19," said Taylor. "We've been putting people up in motels for up to two weeks and then try to get them into one of our housing programs or another program throughout the state once they've quarantined."

When asked about advice for helping domestic violence victims, Taylor says nobody can get help until they are ready for it.

"The best thing to do is to let people know that you care," she added. "(Say), 'If you don't want to talk to me, here's a number to call and talk to someone 24/7.'"

People can call the Domestic Violence Resource's 24-hour crisis line at 503-469-8620 or 1-866-469-8600. The center is located at 735 S.W.158th Ave. in Beaverton.

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