HONESDALE, PA — Executive director of Wayne County’s Victims Intervention Program (VIP) Michele Minor-Wolf visited the Wayne County Commissioners last week to discuss domestic violence …
HONESDALE, PA — Executive director of Wayne County’s Victims Intervention Program (VIP) Michele Minor-Wolf visited the Wayne County Commissioners last week to discuss domestic violence awareness.
“When everything else is shut down, unfortunately, violence does not seem to stop and sometimes can even escalate,” she said. To kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Minor-Wolf explained that the term incorporates much more than just physical abuse: emotional, financial, verbal, intimidation and sexual abuse make up the majority of people who seek VIP’s help, she said.
Each year in Pennsylvania, domestic violence advocates across the state take a one-day snapshot of the services they provide. Last year, that snapshot revealed that 2,630 Pennsylvanians sought help from a domestic violence situation in one day. Minor-Wolf also shared statistics from the PA Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, which found that there were 112 fatalities from domestic violence in 2019. Gathering this data in Pennsylvania, however, is an imperfect process.
“Their fatalities reports are based on newspaper clippings that they get, other information that programs might send, but Pennsylvania doesn’t have reporting requirements for domestic violence homicides, so [those numbers] could be underreported,” Minor-Wolf said. “If domestic violence becomes its own crime in Pennsylvania, that will change.”
There were zero domestic violence deaths in Wayne County last year. One reason for this encouraging statistic, Minor-Wolf said, might be VIP’s lethality assessment project. VIP works with local law enforcement, who screen potential domestic violence victims when responding to calls. If a victim responds “yes” to certain questions the officers ask, then they are put into contact with VIP who assesses if they need shelter. Minor-Wolf said that of all the domestic violence-related deaths Wayne County has seen, none of the victims were ever in contact with VIP. Local police departments coordinate with VIP to conduct the lethality assessment program; the state police do not.
“We haven’t quite figured that out yet, but we do keep trying every time there is a new [commanding officer],” Minor-Wolf said. “We would really like to see the state police signed on, because in Wayne and Pike counties, being so rural, they cover a lot of the territory.”
Minor-Wolf said her personal professional goal over the next year is to get the word out about non-fatal strangulation, which she said is a common act of domestic violence that can often go untraced. Strangulation, which can be treated as a felony in Pennsylvania, is a key indicator of risk for future domestic violence fatalities, Minor-Wolf said.
“[Victims] don’t go to the hospital for [strangulation] usually, and if they go, unless they are asked, they’re not talking about it,” she said. “And there aren’t always physical signs right away either, and yet it can have very long-term effects.”
In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, VIP set up life-size silhouettes in the courthouse lobby, honoring people who died in domestic violence cases in Wayne County.
“We hope that we can continue to have zero domestic violence homicides in Wayne County,” she said. “Because that one life, that one death, ripples out and hurts so many other people... our whole community.”