For the younger members of our community, as long as they can remember, domestic violence has always been a crime. But for many of us, we can recall when these words became Michigan law: “Each police agency in this state shall … develop, adopt, and implement written policies for police officers responding to domestic violence calls. The policies shall reflect that domestic violence is criminal conduct.”

The year? It was only 1995.

When I first moved to Traverse City in1979, this community was on the forefront of dealing with the issue of domestic violence. Now, as we look ahead to 2017, we must remain in that position.

We, as a community, must ensure that none of the societal attitudes or relative lack of awareness from the pre-1995 era linger as we try to advance our quality of life, in so many ways. When the community quietly began a movement in the 1980s to help women who were victims of domestic violence, it happened largely by working in the shadows. There was a stigma for the women committed to this mission who, at the same time, could not always place confidence in law enforcement to assist them. Even in the face of those realities, volunteers created the Women’s Resource Center.

In recent years, our priorities have seemed to drift. We funded programs based on where dollars could be found rather than what those harmed by domestic violence truly needed. An example of this is our effort to address increasing homelessness and substance abuse through capturing government funding prioritized for these critical issues.

We attempted to shape our services to support the community focus. The unanticipated consequence of these decisions, although socially responsible, resulted in reductions in the support services needed for women with their children who suffer abuse.

Now, that the WRC Board has stepped forward to develop a strategic plan to address the mission head-on, it is imperative for the community to stand united against domestic violence. Leaders from all sectors – business, government and religious organizations — must address this as a shared priority and work together as an example for all. Law enforcement must continue its increased commitment, modeled by former Traverse City Police Chief Ralph Soffredine, outgoing Chair of the Women’s Resource Center board. Anyone may join this effort in a variety of ways, from volunteering time to joining the board to providing financial support.

As a social worker, teacher and volunteer, I have seen the impact of domestic violence in our community from a variety of perspectives. It cuts across all walks of life. Chances are it has affected a family close to you.

Thanks to efforts of brave individuals in the not-so-distant past, who refused to “look the other way,” domestic violence became a crime in Michigan and gained resources in the Traverse City area. Those focused efforts must continue. Placing domestic violence as a priority should be considered an important part of making the Traverse City area a peaceful place to live.

About the author: Jane Hayes, Ph.D., LMSW is the incoming board chair for the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City and the 2014 recipient of the Sara Hardy Humanitarian Award.

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