Amy Nardini: We as a community need to step up

Amy Nardini

Sarah Mitchell had a question. She wanted to know what resources were available to victims of domestic violence here. A sophomore at Longwood University and my classmate in our Political Science class, her search for resources was initially fueled by an advocacy project that we were assigned. The search exposed her to the disturbing reality: safety from domestic violence is difficult to find in this region.

Her calls and messages to local groups were left unanswered for nearly a week, and in-person meetings proved to be equally uninformative — despite visible concern, she was astounded to discover that local groups usually could not direct her to any domestic violence resources. Sarah’s search made clear that in rural communities, there are few resources and longer response times.

In her search, she spoke with the Longwood University Police Department (LUPD) and STEPS Inc. The LUPD was not able to provide Sarah with much information, so she reached out to STEPS Inc., a local not-for-profit organization which provides court advocates, law assistance, support groups, and relocation assistance for victims of domestic violence. This too proved to be unhelpful. Sarah’s initial voicemail remained unanswered for seven days; she was deeply frustrated by STEPS’ delayed response, but she knew that it could lead to something worse than frustration for victims. Most victims don’t have seven days to escape their abuser, find shelter, or seek help. It’s also worth noting that a large percentage of those within rural communities like Charlotte own at least one gun; if you’re in a domestic violence situation, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, this increases the death rate for domestic violence victims by 500%.

‘A LONG JOURNEY’ 

When she was finally able to speak with officials at STEPS, Sarah confirmed that they acquired Madeline’s House at the end of 2023. Madeline’s House, a safehouse for victims of domestic violence based in Farmville, Virginia, was previously owned by The Southside Center for Violence Prevention (SCVP). The SCVP initially opened Madeline’s House on July 1st, 1999 using government grants and public donations. The SCVP kept Madeline’s House running until it was forced to close in 2022. The safehouse was already struggling with finances and employee turnover rates when the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) withdrew their support, further limiting Farmville’s dwindling domestic violence resources. While no one argues that change was needed for Madeline’s House, it was the only domestic violence shelter servicing Lunenburg County. Its closure leaves victims a long journey to Lynchburg or Goochland for safe housing.

Yes, STEPS has plans to reopen Madeline’s House by the end of 2024, but their plans mirror those of last year. In other words, we’ve heard this before. They’re making progress, but need help from the community to make sure those doors open. Prince Edward County is allocating $22,171 towards STEPS in the upcoming 2024-25 county budget and Lunenburg County has been asked to chip in $50,000, but we can’t expect them to do it on their own. The counties can’t carry that weight and it’s unfair to ask. 

It’s crucial that people recognize the importance of Madeline’s House — As a community, we must do more to help victims of domestic violence; the reopening of Madeline’s House should not be clouded with uncertainty. The search for help should not be difficult, littered with long delays and unclear answers, as Sarah experienced. 

Change must happen, and it is up to the members of the community to create that change, read an article and speak out against what they know to be wrong. The 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 7 men who experience domestic violence over the course of their life are more than numbers — they are your family, your friends, and your neighbors. The opening of Madeline’s House should be guaranteed for the victims who need it; the community deserves the ability to protect themselves and those they love.

If you want to learn more about STEPS, visit https://www.steps-inc.org/about-us

Amy Nardini is a student at Longwood University. She can be reached at nardinial.longwood@gmail.com.