Volunteers help empower and advocate for victims of domestic violence.
By Kelly Flynn
Whether it’s 3 a.m. on a weekday or 3 p.m. on a weekend, when the phone rings, members of Burlington County’s Domestic Violence Response Team are there to help. The volunteers work with Providence House Domestic Violence Services and local police departments to help empower and advocate for victims of domestic violence.
“When you have someone from your community coming out — whether its 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. — and sitting with you, it says, ‘I care enough to stop whatever I’m doing in my day,’ and it really does send a message that you’re not alone in this and there are people that care,” said Domestic Violence Response Team Coordinator Kim Jewitt.
Burlington County is looking to grow its Domestic Violence Response Team and is seeking volunteers. While the training is fairly intensive, requiring a nearly 40-hour commitment, these volunteers can sometimes make all the difference. Jewitt said studies show victims are six times more likely to prosecute their abuser after meeting with a DVRT member.
When an instance of domestic violence occurs, the police contact Providence House, which, in turn, calls a DVRT member to go to the police station and meet with the victim. From there, the volunteer will outline the victim’s legal options, discuss safety options, talk about domestic violence education programs and generally advocate for the victim.
Whatever that victim’s choice, the DVRT member is there to work with them and help them to think critically about ways to stay safe. Jewitt emphasized everything the victim discusses with the DVRT member remains confidential, and the victim never has to report anything
to the police if they choose not to.
During the DVRT training, volunteers learn about the range of behaviors that fall under the domestic violence umbrella. Jewitt said people have a tendency to think domestic violence is just physical, but there are a range of other coercive and damaging behaviors that are equally as violent in their impact.
Volunteers also learn about victims’ legal options, and while they are not giving legal advice, volunteers can lay out all of the options victims have available to them. If the victim chooses not to pursue legal action, volunteers can also provide safety planning strategies.
After the training, volunteers pick their hours and go on an on-call calendar. They’re paired with an experienced DVRT member for their first few activations, so they can see how to navigate their first few meetings.
Jewitt said studies have shown victims who met with a DVRT volunteer have an easier time accessing resources, and are better equipped with strategies to keep both their children and themselves safe.
One in four women is affected by domestic violence, and despite being a nationwide problem, these situations are too often kept private within the confines of the home, Jewitt said.
“When we have community engagement, that’s really an essential piece to fighting domestic violence,” Jewitt said.
While the volunteer experience is more intensive than most, it’s also one of the more rewarding, according to Jewitt. She said there aren’t many volunteer opportunities where you sit one-on-one with someone in their time of need and give them the tools and options to make their night — or maybe even their future — better.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, a resident of or employed in Burlington County, have a valid New Jersey driver’s license and no criminal history. Those interested in volunteering should contact Jewitt at (856) 824–0599 ext. 8606 or via email at email@example.com. Classes start on March 6, and volunteers can contact Jewitt any time before then to sign up.