Community group offering free interpersonal abuse education

At 19 years old, Fe Mischo was tumbling through what she later learned is called a cycle of abuse. She was isolated from friends and family, had a child with her abuser and didn’t know how to safely leave.

Fifteen years later, she has completed training that allows her to provide the help she wishes she could have received to people in similar situations.

“I would’ve loved that, if this was something all those years ago that would’ve reached out to me,” Mischo said.

Island County Public Health and Citizens Against Domestic & Sexual Abuse partnered to offer free two-and-a-half-hour sessions focused on learning to recognize and understand abuse and providing resources to those in abusive relationships.

More than 60 percent of assault cases in the county in 2015 were domestic violence related, according to community health survey data. The issue affects a wide range of ages, ethnicities and income levels, which is why a local work group created the training curriculum to help spread awareness and provide support to community members who want to help.

Mischo completed the session both because of her own experiences as well as for her position at the Early Childhood and Assistance Program.

Participants in the training learn why the cycle can make it difficult for people to leave these unhealthy relationships. A key message in the program is to challenge one’s judgments, said Nicole Marley, public health coordinator.

Marley, one of the facilitators of the trainings, said it’s important for people to understand that all types of people can be victimized in a number of ways, including emotionally and financially, and stigma and shame can prevent people from speaking about the issue or asking for help.

“A lot of victims live in shame all the time,” Mischo said. “We don’t see that in everyday life, but I carried that for a long time.”

Approaching someone in this situation with empathy is crucial to avoid re-traumatizing them, Marley said. Participants are encouraged to use simple phrases such as, “I believe you” and “I’m sorry this is happening to you” to help the people feel more confident speaking about the issue and hopefully more likely to seek out the resources provided to them.

Through the program, more than 100 people representing groups that work with children, seniors and the public at large have received the education.

Addressing interpersonal abuse was named one of the top priorities in Island County’s Community Health Improvement Plan, which was created after a community survey and data collection. The information showed that the issue was pervasive in Island County among a number of groups of people.

Nearly one in three Island County high school seniors and one in four eighth graders reported being physically abused by an adult in the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey. And in 2017, Adult Protective Services investigated 332 cases in the county.

“Abuse isn’t picky,” Mischo said.

She and Marley said the training is relevant to just about everybody. Typically, people in these situations will go to friends and family members before service providers. Understanding the different ways abusive relationships can look can help people to recognize warning signs earlier on, said Marley.

It’s okay not to know exactly what to say, the most important things people can do is convey empathy and offer resources not judgment, she said.

“It’s going to give the victim that feeling of trust and a safe space to share what’s on their mind,” she said. “And not feel judged or shamed or guilty.

  • To schedule a training, contact Nicole Marley at n.marley@co.island.wa.us or 360-678-7935.

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