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Domestic violence can too often lead to a downward spiral of fear, abuse and permanent trauma, not just for its direct victims but for its young witnesses.

But fortunately a few local nonprofits offer a safe path out of that spiral.

We met last week with representatives of the UpValley Family Centers and Napa Emergency Women’s Services (NEWS), partners in serving victims of domestic violence.

We learned that domestic violence cases – or at least the ones these agencies deal with – seem to be up this year, although it’s hard to track the numbers. In the last six months the Family Centers have dealt with 22 domestic violence cases, with 14 being referred to NEWS.

Jenny Ocón, executive director of the Family Centers, and Tracy Lamb, executive director of NEWS, agreed that those numbers are high. Domestic violence could be on the rise, or victims might be more willing to report it.

The resources are simple to access. NEWS offers a 24-hour hotline, in English or Spanish, where you can talk to someone about abuse, confidentially and, if you wish, anonymously. Call 255-NEWS (255-6397).

The Family Centers at 1440 Spring St. in St. Helena and 1500 Cedar St. in Calistoga offer safe havens where victims can talk to a NEWS-trained domestic violence counselor, learn about temporary restraining orders, or get referred to NEWS if necessary. If a family wants to stay together, the Family Centers can teach them coping mechanisms to prevent violence.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be a difficult choice. Victims might fear public shame, immigration problems, or the loss of a job that feeds their kids.

For those who do take that step, NEWS operates a shelter in Napa, but space is limited. Lamb said it’s especially hard to find temporary housing Upvalley.

Victims who are looking to rebuild their lives often prefer to stay in the same town, where they have reliable social connections. Upvalley victims need more options, so if you have any ideas please call Lamb at 255-6397.

We also learned that there’s a growing push to adopt more gender-neutral language when talking about domestic violence. Lamb said NEWS has been helping more and more men in recent years, as awareness grows that not all victims are women.

NEWS board member Doug Ernst, former publisher of the Star, told us about his efforts to mentor youth through the Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend, where teens are taught positive values of respect. He also touted “Men Making NEWS,” an annual event honoring men who model healthy, respectful relationships.

Ernst said men who need support or want to participate as mentors on the Ultimate Weekend can call him at 266-8665.

NEWS and the UpValley Family Centers work with local schools, too, helping at-risk kids express themselves and develop attitudes that promote safe, nonviolent relationships.

Lamb also praised law enforcement for improving its approach to domestic violence.

When NEWS was founded in 1981, a common attitude among police toward domestic disputes was “take a walk around the block and cool down.” Today, however, even the most minor injuries are resulting in abuse charges.

So while domestic violence may or may not be on the rise, the agencies that help victims are stronger than ever.

Domestic violence is a problem that cuts across racial, gender and socioeconomic lines. To fight it, we need a partnership that’s just as diverse.

(Note: Editorial board member Norma Ferriz works for the UpValley Family Centers.)

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