Support for violence victims the aim of McKeesport-area organizations

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 4:32 a.m.

The statistics are staggering — one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. One in five high school girls has been sexually abused by a boyfriend.

To raise awareness, October has been designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The Center for Victims was created July 1 via a merger of Womansplace and the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime. Part of its mission is to assure victims of domestic violence that help and resources are available.

“Our merger has allowed us to streamline our administration and focus on our core competencies to ensure the many different needs of each and every victim are being effectively met,” the center's president and CEO Laurie MacDonald said,

The first step is to call 911 when an act of domestic violence is heard or seen, the center advises.

If domestic violence is suspected, or if someone confides they are a victim, ask if they are safe and need to talk to someone. The 24-hour crisis hotline number is 412-678-4616.

Bethany Wingerson is director of domestic violence services at the McKeesport shelter, where victims and their children can seek refuge for 30 days.

“We can have 27 people at the shelter at one time,” she said, noting that 450 women and children are served each year at the shelter. “We assist them with the resources they need to be self-sufficient in their lives.”

Domestic violence often includes sexual assault, and Wingerson said the newly merged center is equipped and staffed to handle all such incidents.

“Now we are a complete victims service and can adequately address those other issues,” she said. “Our advocates are trained in all areas so they can help victims of any crime. This is more streamlined and less confusing for the victims, who already are overwhelmed.”

Expect Respect helps to raise awareness among teens about dating violence. Program coordinator Diane Dahm said 10 high schools take part in the program, including South Allegheny and Clairton.

It's focus is teaching students about healthy relationships.

More than 200 student leaders serve as peer advocates.

“They are in the schools and they talk to their friends,” Dahm said. “They meet at lunch and after school and they are really excited about doing this. In the process, they are increasing their own self-esteem as they become leaders.”

In February, student-led programs help to raise awareness of teen dating violence. Red flags could indicate a problem, including jealousy, being told what to wear and with whom to talk, and having to be constantly connected to their dating partner.

“Sometimes these things start out subtle, but they gradually get bigger,” Dahm said.

Ways to help the shelter include collecting food, toiletries or cell phones; having a third-party fundraiser for the Center for Victims; volunteering; making a monetary donation or giving gift cards; asking guests to a birthday, wedding, shower or anniversary gathering to donate to the center in lieu of bringing a gift; and talking to teens about what is appropriate and healthy in a dating relationship.

Another option is to include the Center for Victims in estate planning.

“There are ways of planning to provide for a charitable organization and your family,” said attorney Carl B. Zacharia, senior partner with Zacharia & Brown, P.C.

The firm can be reached at 412-751-5670.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or

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