Project Woman, Springfield coalition raise domestic violence awareness

Local efforts coincide with April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield and Clark County organizations are working to raise awareness about domestic violence and contribute to local efforts to help reduce it.

Project Woman works directly with survivors, including those of gender-based violence such as intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. The Springfield Domestic Violence Coalition is a community driven organization that works to reduce domestic violence by providing education and advocacy through research and reporting.

Most of Project Woman’s contacts for services are directly from survivors, their family members and supportive partner agencies in the community. The group’s data is based on survivor and victim contact, advocates’ services provided, and statements and information gathered from each case’s specifics.

Over 70% of those served “do not wish” to connect with law enforcement, said executive director Laura Baxter, and the “simple fact will always show victim services data and justice system data to be out of sync.”

The Springfield Domestic Violence Coalition (SVDC) conducted new research on domestic violence in the area based off a review of Clark County domestic violence incidents from 2016-23 that were published in the Ohio Attorney General’s (AG) report of Domestic Violence Incident Reports by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCII).

“Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects people of all ages, races, gender identity, LGBTQ+ and socioeconomic backgrounds. This study provides us with valuable data that will help us to better target our prevention and intervention efforts,” said SDVC Director Beth Donahue.

Project Woman has served more than 1,356 people in the past year, which includes first-time and returning survivors, and has provided 270 survivors with 2,920 bed nights of emergency shelter. There has been a steady increase in first-time and repeat contacts by survivors over the past five years, with a 54% increase before COVID and an additional 72% increase during COVID.

“The reasons would vary depending on the survivor needs, but we have seen more requests for safe exit strategies. This would be to work with an advocate to safely leave an abusive/violent home and bypass law enforcement involvement entirely,” Baxter said. “Our requests for emergency shelter are consistently over capacity, resulting in Project Woman’s need to expand its facilities and number of available beds in shelter.”

Project Woman receives a “considerable number” of referrals from law enforcement officers, who are required under law to provide victim services information at the scene for all intimate partner violence (IPV) and gender-based violence calls. These referrals are not always open criminal cases and include several IPV crimes such as violation of a protection order, menacing by stalking, aggravated menacing, strangulation, assault, felonious assault, kidnapping, abduction, criminal damaging, disruption of public services, and telecommunications harassment.

In 2024, Project Woman has had 61 referrals through March from law enforcement. In 2023, it received 271 referrals from law enforcement.

“I believe there is an increase in incidents of IPV in our community. Factors that lead to domestic violence are very diverse, but economic uncertainty causes pressure on top of other risk factors that serves to fan the flame, so to speak,” Baxter said. “Not all victimizations are chargeable offenses, and we assist survivors regardless of their participation with law enforcement.”

Some survivors connect with law enforcement for justice, but Baxter said many are just looking for a safe new beginning. She said they are often not willing to participate with law enforcement because they don’t know how to navigate the criminal justice system. This is where advocates come in to support, educate and explain the justice system process to victims.

“Advocates help to facilitate trauma-informed conversations with the criminal justice system to ensure victim’s rights are upheld and the voice of the victim is not lost in the systems’ processes,” she said. “It is proven time and again that victims are more willing to participate in the justice system when they understand the processes and are treated with respect and with an approach that is not victim-blaming.”

Lauren Dennis, advocacy services coordinator for Project Woman, said advocates play a key role because they “see and hear things that are not always reported to law enforcement, and it is important for the public to understand that there are alternatives to the criminal justice system to seek help.”

For those who do call law enforcement, Project Woman offers 24/7 support via Rapid Response through advocacy on-call where they respond to law enforcement and hospitals at any hour, and even call while law enforcement is on scene with a survivor.

“We have made significant progress in our local criminal justice system toward being victim-focused,” Dennis said.

Project Womanand the Clark County Sheriff’s Office co-facilitate a local Coordinated Community Response Team to align local efforts of evidence-based practices and educate the community and all first responders and partners to these violence issues, all while making sure it is non-victim blaming and holds perpetrators accountable.

The sheriff’s office also includes the IPV unit, which is responsible for all intimate partner calls for service and gender-based violence cases for domestic violence, strangulation, stalking and protection order violations.

“This is a community issue, and we as a community must educate ourselves to better serve each other,” said Denise Jones, who leads the sheriff’s office IPV unit.

Around one in four women will experience violence at the hands of a partner, according to the Connections for Abused Women and their Children. Despite the prevalence of domestic violence, nearly half (44%) of domestic violence cases go unreported. Baxter said most cases of IPV go unreported for a variety of reasons such as fear, threats, coercion or lack of resources to survive without the support of their abuser.

Baxter called domestic violence complicated.

“There are a lot of opinions and emotions around the subject. How we view it and what assumptions we make about it has changed over time, but the prevalence remains consistently alarming over the decades. This means, from my perspective, that the root causes cannot be impacted without total community buy-in,” she said. “Partnerships are necessary; through shared resources we can do more.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The Springfield Domestic Violence Coalition (SDVC) report, conducted by Donahue, looked at all Clark County law enforcement’s reports to BCII and the percentages of domestic violence incidents with and without injuries from 2016-23. For example, a domestic violence incident with a non-injury could include threats, menacing behaviors and destruction of property, and a domestic violence incident with injury could be assault, battery or strangulation.

The SDVC report said the number of domestic violence victims, both with and without injuries, in Clark County has decreased since 2016.

That year, records showed 1,940 incidents, 524 with injuries and 1,416 without injuries. In 2023, the report listed 453 victims, 122 with injuries and 331 without injuries. The only year from 2016 to 2023 that incidents increased was 2022, amid COVID, when cases increased by 611.

The data is problematic, however.

Donahue said in 2020 and 2021, no data on domestic violence injuries was reported to the AG’s office by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and in 2022 and 2023, the Springfield Police Division submitted some, not all, report data, “which meant that SPD accounted for 98% of all reported domestic violence injuries to the AG’s office in that time period.”

Because of the incomplete or missing incident report data, Donahue said the community misses crucial details about domestic violence incidents and community leaders cannot make informed decisions. She said the SDVC is attempting to explain the context surrounding the data collection and interpret it more accurately.

Donahue said the findings “highlight the importance of the work we are doing at SDVC.” Members hope this report will lead to better practices in identifying domestic violence incidents, abuse incident rates and identifying increases or decreases in domestic violence injury trends in the community.


Project Woman

1,356: Number of people served in the past year.

270: Number of survivors provided with 2,920 bed nights of emergency.

61: Number of law enforcement referrals so far in 2024.

271: Number of law enforcement referrals in 2023.

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