Raising domestic violence awareness

St. Patrick’s High School cheerleaders gather around a poster intended to raise awareness about domestic violence. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Rape and Domestic Abuse Program of North Platte is drawing attention to a serious problem.

“October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” said Jeanie Gilbert, executive director of RDAP. “The best tools to end domestic violence are education and awareness, and those start within communities. If people don’t understand what domestic violence is, they tend to ask the wrong questions.”

She said asking a victim why he or she stays in an abusive relationship is an example of the wrong thing to say.

“We need to end that,” Gilbert said. “It’s a defensive question. A victim shouldn’t have to answer that when asking for help. It could make the victim not want to seek help again.”

RDAP has incorporated a couple of new events into its awareness campaign this year, in addition to the traditional ones.

“At their homecoming game, the St. Pat’s cheerleaders had a big poster that read, ‘Take the purple pledge to end domestic violence in your lifetime,’ ” said Gilbert. “They got people to sign the poster and handed out pledge cards that read, ‘Stop the violence.’ ”

She gets excited when youth become involved with such efforts.

“To have boys and girls say, ‘We won’t be abusive to anyone,’ that’s huge,” Gilbert said. “It means they understand what domestic violence is, and they want to stop the cycle.”

RDAP has also added a support group. It’s known as “HALO,” which stands for “Helping Actions for Loved Ones.” The group meets at 1 p.m. Wednesdays at the RDAP office, 414 East A St.

“Often, we get calls from people who want us to help their relatives,” Gilbert said. “But people have to come to us for help. We don’t go after them. Parents and siblings get frustrated by that, so we started a group to educate them about how they can help their loved ones.”

There’s no cost to attend a session, and walk-ins are welcome. The group met for the first time this week. It’s led by Jenny Bonta, volunteer coordinator, and Amy Masek, a master level therapist who just joined RDAP.

The organization has also scheduled its annual dog walk at the Waggin’ Tails Dog Park for 10 a.m. Oct. 25. About 20 people attend every year to recognize the fact that in domestic violence situations, pets are often victimized as well.

On Oct. 29, RDAP staff and volunteers will serve food all day long to local law enforcement officers. It’s another annual event that takes place at the police department.

“We start with cinnamon rolls in the morning, then serve barbecued pork sandwiches, chips and dessert for lunch,” said Gilbert. “It’s just our way to say, ‘Thank you.’ We work very closely with law enforcement. They keep us safe, work with our victims and are always there when we need them. We’re very appreciative of that.”

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