‘We need to start talking about it’: Domestic violence is hurting Muskegon. But help is here—and it’s growing.

Kim Dimmett is the new executive director of Every Woman’s Place. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Each year, hundreds of people turn to Every Woman’s Place for help dealing with, and healing from, sexual assault and domestic violence—including physical, emotional and financial abuse. Now, the nonprofit’s new executive director, Kim Dimmett, is determined to reach even more people—women, men and children—who are struggling in Muskegon.

“Most people don’t report their crimes,” Dimmett said of victims of domestic and sexual violence. “If you’re abused mentally but not physically, you can feel, ‘well, it’s not that serious,’ and they don’t talk about it. That’s the hardest abuse, in my opinion, for a victim to come forward about is the mental torment. With sexual abuse, our society has, largely, gotten over victim blaming, but there’s still a lot of apprehension to pursue help.”

But Dimmett and the approximately 30 people who work at Every Woman’s Place, which is located at 1221 W. Laketon Ave. in Muskegon, as well as their team of volunteers, are determined to change that: they want anyone facing domestic and sexual violence to know they have a safe place to turn.

“We have folks in the building 24 hours a day, so it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, you can come to us,” Dimmett said. “You can come in; you can call our hotline or our office. If you need counseling for a past event, you can call us. You can Facebook us. There are lots of ways to reach us.”

Now in her sixth week as executive director, Dimmett, who replaced Lori Rasmussen as the head of Every Woman’s Place and was previously the director of development at the Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County in Texas, is working on supporting more people in the community by strengthening partnerships with other local organizations, expanding outreach efforts, and growing the services that are offered.

Currently, Every Woman’s Place offers a 22-bed shelter for women and children (they are also able to connect men with emergency housing, including in local hotels and apartments), crisis intervention, support groups, children’s services, education and prevention initiatives, and a sober living program—which is funded by HealthWest and includes eight beds for individuals who want to be recovering addicts. All of Every Woman’s Place services are provided for free to the clients.

Started in 1975, the nonprofit now serves approximately 500 “non-residential” clients a year, or individuals who come to them for services other than shelter. There were 503 clients who received legal advocacy over the past year, 496 people who accessed non-residential services—such as counseling, support groups and education, and 49 individuals who received sexual assault services. There were 4,060 “bed nights” for women, which translates to the number of times women spent the night at the Every Woman’s Place shelter, and 4,490 “bed nights” for children.

“People will escape and come to us with their two kids in hand,” Dimmett said. “They’ll have nothing on them. They’re stripped of almost everything. They’ll maybe have clothes in a bag.”

In Muskegon County in general, 1,391 domestic violence incidents were reported, or 3 percent of the state’s total of 48,264, over the past year. Muskegon County is eighth out of Michigan’s 83 counties in terms of the number of domestic violence incidents that are reported.

All of which is to say: there’s a deep need for services and continued support throughout the community—as well as to reach those who have, so far, been scared to reach out for help, Dimmett said. This, of course, isn’t something that’s relegated to Muskegon—domestic and sexual violence have long been a plague across the country: on average, one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with such impacts as injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The murder of intimate partners is currently on the rise in the United States after almost four decades of decline, with the overwhelming majority of the victims being women, according to a recent study by James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. The National Domestic Violence Hotline saw a 30 percent spike in phone calls last year.

The violence perpetrated against women, and the marginalization of women in general, is something Dimmett has long fought against.

“I grew up in southern Indiana, in a town of 500 people, where the role of women was minimized,” said Dimmett, who spent the first nine years of her life on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin and, prior to working in Texas, served in the U.S. Air Force. “When I had the opportunity to help other women achieve their goals or break free from the confines of their society, I wanted to do that. I want to motivate people to realize their own power.”

Of course, men too are victims of domestic and sexual abuse, and Dimmett emphasized that Every Woman’s Place provides services for men as well. Of the nonprofit’s clientele over the past year, 518 were women and 57 were male—a number the new director said she is hoping to increase.

“Men are abused—not as much as women, but still at alarming rates, and we [as a society] don’t talk about it,” she said.

A recent “huge victory” for Every Woman’s Place, and domestic and sexual violence survivors in general, is, Dimmett said, an operating agreement signed by the nonprofit, local law enforcement, the courts, and the medical community throughout Muskegon County that formalizes how the organizations will work together to support victims of domestic and sexual violence.

“We brought everyone to the table, and we all agreed to follow this plan of action with a survivor so they get all the services they need, and we don’t re-victimize them in the process,” Dimmett said. “It’s a huge thing for us.”

The new director too is working to partner with social service agencies, such as West Michigan Works!, in order to further connect clients with available services in the community, from resume skills to available jobs. 

“The majority of folks we see have no income without their abuser,” Dimmett said. “A lot of them need jobs training and assistance getting on their feet so they don’t return to that situation. Many mothers need to have that extra help.”

Ultimately, the new director wants to grow the programs available for clients so they can “become economically self-sufficient,” including connecting them with opportunities to attend college.

Every Woman’s Place too partners with shelters across the country, so if someone’s “abuser is local and volatile,” they can transfer someone to a safer location.

As the nonprofit grows its relationships with other community organizations, Dimmett too is looking to expand education and prevention efforts, including by partnering with civic and church groups, schools and more. The group already offers a number of these initiatives, including providing information about dating violence in schools and offering training to law enforcement on supporting domestic violence victims and ensuring they’re not re-victimized.

“We are here to provide our services not only after [violence] happens, but to provide outreach and prevention so we can stop it before it happens,” Dimmett said. “I’d ask people to reach out to us about talking to their civic groups, church groups, young people.”

“We need to start talking about it,” Dimmett said of domestic and sexual violence. “We need to admit there’s an issue.”

And that is exactly what Every Woman’s Place is here to do, Dimmett said: talk about domestic and sexual violence, educate people about it, support and empower survivors—all with a team that’s deeply passionate about what they do, the executive director emphasized.

“We have an amazing group of people who come together for this common cause; we’re so fortunate,” Dimmett said of her staff and volunteers.

Every Woman’s Place is located at 1221 W. Laketon Ave. in Muskegon. It can be reached in-person at its office, by calling its general office at (231) 759-7909 or its emergency hotline at (231) 722-3333, or on Facebook.

For those who are interested in donating needed items, please click here, and those who would like to volunteer can learn more here. Every Woman’s Place is currently looking for individuals, families or organizations who are interested in sponsoring a family for the holidays; if you are interested in doing so, please click here for more information.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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