Without fail, the Town of Gilbert sent out a tweet every Wednesday reminding residents to wear purple to raise awareness about domestic violence.
“We’ve worked with various departments in the organization, from the Gilbert Police Department to Gilbert’s Prosecutor’s Office, to develop a month-long campaign to educate the community about the importance of ending domestic violence,” said Jennifer Alvarez, the digital media and marketing officer for Gilbert.
Gilbert, along with other Arizona cities, the Governor’s Office and the Maricopa Association of Governments all participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month, or DVAM, which takes place in October. DVAM is a national campaign that aims to shine a light on the issue and its prevalence along with alerting survivors to the resources available to them.
“There is a great need for everyone in the community to be involved and educated in order to help one another. If there is more education on what abuse looks like in adults, children and teens, we may be able to save more lives,” said Gina Kington, the transitional housing coordinator with the Chrysalis shelter.
According to Alvarez, Gilbert has three members on Maricopa Association of Governments’ Regional Domestic Violence Council. Councilman Eddie Cook, Assistant Town Prosecutor Zach Altman and Gilbert Police Department Youth and Adult Resources Manager Kathleen Sullivan all serve on that council.
Many other cities in Arizona have come together on social media to raise awareness. Cities like Phoenix and Surprise have replaced their Twitter icons with a purple version of their city emblem.
Arizona cities and towns have a more predominent presence on Twitter than on Instagram or Facebook. Phoenix and Gilbert have both used their Twitter platform to frequently tweet messages to followers aimed at raising awareness about domestic violence.
Other cities such as Tempe and Glendale have not mentioned domestic violence or DVAM so far in October.
“The Needs Assessment started the conversation and given Gilbert’s focus on digital communications, social media is the way we are reaching the community to share the Domestic Violence Awareness Month messaging,” Alvarez said.
In 2014, Gilbert conducted a needs assessment that identified nine areas of the population that were in need of service. One of those included families and individuals in crisis which victims of domestic violence fall under.
This needs assessment is the basis used by the town council to determine what nonprofits will receive funding from both Gilbert’s general fund and funds from their Neighbor 2 Neighbor program, a program that allows residents to donate funds to help those in need.
Chrysalis Shelter is one nonprofit organization that received funding through Gilbert’s nonprofit support to assist families in crisis, including domestic violence victims. Shelter, counseling and court victim advocates are a few programs that the shelter offers.
According to statistics provided by Rosaria Flores, an advocate with the Chrysalis Shelter, domestic violence is common in Arizona. The state was ranked fourth nationally in female domestic homicide and eighth nationally for calls placed to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Over 40,000 domestic violence incidents go unreported each year.
“Individuals that have been personally affected by domestic violence, typically feel ashamed to tell their story,” said Tiffany Harrison, a victim advocate with Chrysalis. “Often victims will tell me that they feel stupid for not knowing better. They take on all the responsibility, which is not fair.”
A year after the needs assessment was completed, the Gilbert Police department created the Family Violence Unit to focus specifically focus on domestic violence.
According to the Gilbert Police Departments strategic initiative quarterly report, in fiscal year 2016 the town had a 3.5 percent domestic violence recidivism rate. At the end of fiscal year 2015 that rate was 3.1 percent. This rate is used to describe the tendency for someone to reoffend.
The recidivism rate in Gilbert meets the departments goal to keep it below 5 percent.
Inside specialty organizations, such as the Family Violence Unit and Chrysalis, staff are trained to identify and handle domestic violence incidents. They are aware of the issue and are working to raise more awareness among the community.
According to Azucena Gonzalez, the client advocate supervisor at Chrysalis, communities can raise more awareness by learning what domestic violence looks like. Gonzalez also said building a rapport with a victim is necessary.
“What can you say to someone that you’re concerned about? Reassure them that it is not their fault, that they are not alone, that they have the right to be safe and that you are there for them,” said Harrison.