March is Women’s History Month, or as we like to say here at Denton County Friends of the Family, Women’s Herstory Month. We think this is the perfect opportunity to look back at the history of the Battered Women’s Movement in Texas and celebrate how far we have come!
If you are a volunteer who has completed orientation, then you may have already heard this story. Martha McWhirter opened the first shelter for battered women in Texas in 1870, which closed in the late 1890’s early 1900s. Martha was a devout woman who encouraged other women in the community to be more empowered in their lives and less dependent on their husbands, especially if those women were in abusive marriages. Her reasoning wasn’t simply to protect women from their abusive husbands, but also to show that women could run a business and earn a livable income, something unheard of at the time. The shelter started out as a religious prayer group of sorts, where they not only prayed for the end of violence at the hands of their husbands, but also for the sanctification of themselves. After Martha’s refuge closed there wasn’t another shelter in Texas until 1977.
Over 100 years after the first shelter opened, in 1977, Nikki Van Hightower helped open a women’s shelter in Texas, called the Houston Area Women’s Center. Ms. Van Hightower, a leading member of the women’s movement of the early 1970’s, was appointed to the office of Women’s Advocate in 1976 and was called the “best-known feminist” in Houston according to Women On The Move Texas.
In 1980, just 3 years after the Battered Women’s Movement had resurfaced, Dr. Fran Danis was a driving force behind the opening of Denton County Friends of the Family. As the first Executive Director and vocal advocate for victims in our community, she brought Denton the first and only shelter for those impacted by domestic and sexual violence. Dr. Danis continues to support the work of Denton County Friends of the Family. She is a woman of Herstory, as her efforts have helped save thousands of lives here in Denton County. Without her vision to open our doors, we wouldn’t be able to provide all the services we do, like play therapy, group and individual therapy, counseling, advocacy, legal services, and so much more. She had a vision and it continues to grow and blossom from the work of all those employed at DCFOF and all those who have interned and volunteered here.
All of these shelters have one major commonality (besides the population that they served) which is that they were all opened by women. Martha McWhirter in 1870, Nikki Van Hightower in 1977, and Fran Danis in 1980. A common theme you hear today is “Women Helping Women” and this theme is woven throughout the battered women’s movement: beginning with these women of Texas and their fight to end domestic violence and provide refuge for those seeking shelter. These are just three women who have made a positive impact on the Battered Women’s Movement, but there are millions more who are continuing to support and fight for the end of violence against women.
This month, we invite you to share with us the women you know who either made an impact on the betterment of women’s lives in the past or those who are currently making #herstory. We are all helping to lead the way to a better future, so let’s celebrate those who have come before us and those who are with us today - those voices we can help lift up and make all the stronger. Share your #Herstory on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag/pound sign #dcfofherstory.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in our community will be impacted by domestic violence. As the sole provider of services for the victims and survivors in our community, we know these numbers to be tragically accurate. In 2018, we served over 4,000 women and children seeking help across Denton County and had an average of 200 brand new clients walk through our doors every month. While it is heartbreaking to know that there are so many in our community that are suffering at the hands of someone that they should love and trust, we know that these high numbers are actually a good thing. It means that our neighbors and friends know where to go for help, and are asking for help when it is needed. For too long there has been a culture of silence and shame around family violence and sexual violence. That is no longer how our community views these crimes, and we have our partnership with community leaders to thank for it. One of the opportunities to make an impact on our community is to become a DCFOF Impact Maker Annual Partner. To support DCFOF in 2019, our Annual Partner donated $10,000 to go back into the life-saving services provided to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
DCFOF's 2019 Impact Maker Annual Partner is Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers (CRC). CRC is a Family Law firm that opened in 1998 and has served the community ever since with high-quality customer service and a client-focused approach. One of the things that make Denton County feel like home to the partners is the strong sense of community and connected spirit of its members. In that same vein, CRC has chosen to make 2019 a year to give back to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the community in need of support.
“Denton County Friends of the Family has played a huge part in my professional life, and the personal lives of several friends, family members, and clients since our firm came to Denton more than 20 years ago,” stated CRC founding shareholder,Duane L. Coker. “Their positive impact in our area is impossible to measure. We are thrilled to be a part of allowing that impact to continue in the lives of those served by DCFOF and to partner with such a great organization.”
As the sole provider in Denton County of lifesaving services to those affected by relationship violence and/or sexual assault, DCFOF has an important role in the community. Kelly Robb, CRC shareholder reflected: "I have over 15 years of experience in Family Law and one of my areas of focus is child custody cases and cases involving Child Protective Services. There is nothing more devastating than a child in the middle of a sad, and often dangerous, situation. Duane, Jacqueline and I want to do everything in our power to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children receive the services they need to find safety, hope, healing, and justice. We are excited to be partnering with Denton County Friends of the Family as their Impact Maker Annual Partner; together we can make our community a safer place!"
"Denton County has been my home for almost my whole life and I am passionate about making it the best community it can be," continued Jacqueline Cannon, shareholder at CRC. "As a practicing Family Violence attorney for 11 years, I know that the tragic crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault happen far too often, even in our own backyard. That is why Duane, Kelly and I have decided to take a step toward addressing this issue in our community by being Friends of the Family's Impact Maker Annual Partner. Together we strive to help those in need; both through our legal services at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers and through our support of Friends of the Family."
“In 2018 we served over 4,000 women and children at Friends of the Family,” says Toni Johnson-Simpson DCFOF Executive Director. “As Denton County continues to expand, so does the need for our services. In the last year, we have seen a 50% increase in children served with play therapy, a 52% increase in clients needing advocacy services, and a 24% increase in new clients coming through our doors. It is more important than ever to have strong partnerships like the one with Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers to continue to provide the quality and quantity of services to every person in need. I want to thank the partners at Coker, Robb & Cannon for their commitment to safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in our community.”
Cyndi is one of our longest employees at DCFOF! She is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology from Texas Woman's University. Cyndi started working with Friends of the Family as a counseling intern in 2005 and became a staff counselor in 2006.
Over the last thirteen years, Cyndi has taken on many roles at the agency, including BIPP (Battering Intervention and Prevention) Counselor, Crisis Line Coordinator, Shelter Director, Shelter Counselor, and Adult Counselor at our Outreach office in Corinth. Cyndi has a passion for working with victims/survivors, often helping with our Survivors Advocacy Team by providing accompaniment to sexual assault victims in local emergency rooms. Cyndi provides counseling for individual and group clients, and supervises many of our graduate counseling interns from local universities. Cyndi loves working with the amazing clients at DCFOF because she is inspired by their incredible strength and resilience. Cyndi believes her clients already possess within themselves the strength and resourcefulness to achieve their goals, and counseling offers them a safe space in which to explore and heal so that they can create for themselves the lives they wish to lead.
The clients and interns at DCFOF have great things to say about Cyndi: “I feel a sense of relief that I no longer have to live in the horrible environment I have been in for the past 15 years, and that is thanks to DCFOF and Cyndi”
“I feel better knowing that I am not alone and that there are services available to help me. I wish I had come to Cyndi sooner.”
“Cyndi really cares and has been a great role model of how to provide compassionate care to clients”
We are so grateful to Cyndi for all her years of service to the agency and the many lives
she has impacted along the way!
In celebrating Black History Month, it is important to recognize the ways in which intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault (SA) uniquely affect the Black community. As we know, intimate partner violence and sexual assault can impact anybody from any walk of life; however, there are undoubtedly communities that disproportionately experience these forms of violence and African Americans are among those who experience these forms of violence at higher rates. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the data shows that:
• More than 4 in 10 Black women experience physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes. White women, Latinas, and Asian/Pacific Islander women report lower rates.
• Black women also experience significantly higher rates of psychological abuse—including humiliation, insults, name-calling, and coercive control—than do women overall.
• Sexual violence affects Black women at high rates. More than 20% of Black women are raped during their lifetimes—a higher share than among women overall.
• Black women face a particularly high risk of being killed at the hands of a man. A 2015 Violence Policy Center study finds that Black women were 2.5 times more likely to be murdered by men than their White counterparts. More than 9 in 10 Black female victims knew their killers.
• Domestic violence is the number one cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15 and 35.
It is not just Black women who experience these forms of violence disproportionately, Black men do too. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that both African American men and women were victimized by intimate partners at a rate 35% higher than persons of any other race. Beyond this, African American men were 62% more likely than white men to become victims of IPV, and about 2.5 times more likely than women of other races to become victims of IPV. Moreover, 12% of African American men reported experiencing at least one episode of IPV annually.
Considering these harrowing statistics, it is clear that both sexual assault and intimate partner violence are pervasive issues within the Black community. The impact of this is profound; so much so that the National Black Women's Health Project identified intimate partner violence as the number one health issue for African American women. In the face of all this, it is important to recognize the African American individuals and organizations that are helping to combat these widespread issues and bring hope to those affected.
The first person I’d like to highlight is Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a well-known legal scholar, and activist who has done a tremendous amount of work in seeking justice for victims of gender and race-based violence, including sexual violence. She is most known for coining the term internationality, which has been used to better understand the ways gender, race, poverty, etc., shape the experiences of African American people, both within the legal sphere and beyond. Internationality is defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. This concept is particularly important when considering what factors contribute to the occurrence of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Recently in an interview on NPR, Crenshaw made the following statement, speaking to the ways gender and race intersect in cases of sexual abuse:
“I do think that race does play a role. African-American women have routinely been challenged in their efforts to tell a story about sexual abuse. There was a time that a case might be dismissed if the allegation of rape or other forms of sexual abuse didn't also allege that the victim was white.”
By recognizing the roles that race and gender play in shaping the experiences of African-American women seeking help when they have been sexually assaulted, Crenshaw highlights the challenges they face in telling their stories. This point brings me to the next individual I would like to highlight, someone who we were fortunate enough to have speak at our event, “An Evening of Raised Awareness,” Dr. Renee Fowler Hornbuckle. Dr. Hornbuckle is dedicated to breaking the silence that surrounds domestic violence and sexual assault and empowering the members of her community with the tools to do so. Since speaking out about her own abuse, she is now partnering and participating with various organizations to bring about awareness, helping others break their silence and take a stand against domestic violence. Speaking out and raising awareness is integral to combating IPV and SA; Dr. Hornbuckle is making profound strides in this area.
DCFOF’s event, “An Evening of Raised Awareness,” where Dr. Renee Fowler Hornbuckle spoke, was made possible by the Our Community Matters program at Denton County Friends of the Family, coordinated by Cassandra Berry. As it states on our website, the Our Community Matters program “focuses on engaging the African American community and bringing increased awareness to the resources available for victims of domestic violence.” Programs like these play a crucial role in helping those affected by intimate partner violence and sexual assault. As was discussed earlier in this post, it is especially important to reach those who are disproportionately affected by these forms of violence, which is exactly what the Our Community Matters program aims to do.
Ultimately, while the disproportionate occurrence of SA and IPV in the Black community is cause for concern, the hard work done by Black women and organizations dedicated to helping to combat these forms of violence, is cause for celebration this Black History Month. When looking at the statistics mentioned early on in this post, it is easy to feel disheartened. No one should ever experience sexual assault or intimate partner violence in any community. Thankfully, there are hardworking members of the community, both individuals and organizations, who are helping to raise awareness and provide resources, in hopes that this issue will no longer exist in the future and that those who are survivors are empowered with the resources they need to thrive.
At Friends of the Family we provide compassionate, comprehensive services to those impacted by rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, while partnering with our community to promote safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention.
If you or someone you know needs help please call our 24-hour crisis line at 940-382-7273 OR 800-572-4031.
Rennison, C. M., & Welchans, S. (2000). Bureau of Justice Statistics special report: Intimate partner violence. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
L. Hampton, Robert & Oliver, William & Magarian, Lucia. (2003). “Domestic Violence in the African American Community: An Analysis of Social and Structural Factors.” Violence Against Women. 9. 533-557. 10.1177/1077801202250450.
Hornbuckle, Renee Fowler. Suffering in Silence: Break the Silence. CreateSpace, 2012.
Here at Denton County Friends of the Family our therapists are both excited and honored to be a part of a child’s journey through play therapy. Children utilize play as a way to process the world around them. If play is the language of children, toys are the words. Think back to when you were a child, if it was up to you, you would have played all day long! In play therapy, a child might play with a doll showing their ability to nurture, or a child might build a tall tower out of blocks displaying their need to master a task. Play therapy allows a child to explore their inner thoughts and feelings in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Play can be fun, challenging, and sometimes very serious. The sandbox can be a world of fantastic moments, adventures, challenges made, monsters destroyed, princesses avenged, or a fun day on the beach. Regardless, it all has important meaning to a struggling child. Trained play therapists understand how to effectively communicate with children by providing a safe place for children to process any issues that might be present for them. A play therapist can literally speak a child’s language!
Trauma affects children by teaching them the world is unsafe and unpredictable. When working with children who have experienced trauma, we might see children who are anxious, withdrawn, or angry. Parents and teachers often report their children or students having trouble focusing, sitting still, and appearing to struggle to connect with their peers. Children who experience trauma can come to play therapy to heal by experiencing a safe environment with a safe person, thus showing the child that the world can be a great place!
In 2018, our play therapists have completed 5,013 hours of play therapy. We have seen an increase of self-esteem, greater child/parent relationship bonds, and a decrease of fearfulness and acting-out behaviors. Our parents express that their children have an increase in self-regulation and have displayed more self-control. Some parents have even stated that play therapy has given their child the space to learn how to just be a kid.
Guest Blog By: Tami Schmidt, Lantana Ladies League Casino Night Chair
Our partnerships within the community are incredibly important to our agency and we are grateful for all of the support we receive from organizations around the County. The Lantana Ladies League is hosting an event benefiting us and one of their representatives, Tami Schmidt, was kind enough to write this guest blog for us!
“Be the reason someone smiles today.” It isn’t just a nice sentiment…it’s a rallying cry for the passionate women behind the Lantana Ladies League.
For more than 14 years, the League has existed to make a difference in the Lantana and surrounding Denton County communities by fostering volunteerism, fellowship and mentoring services for at-risk women, adolescents, and children. On Friday, March 22 from 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM, the League will once again come together to give back by hosting Denim, Diamonds, and Dice: A Texas-Style Casino Night at the beautiful Circle R Ranch in Flower Mound, all to raise money and awareness for Denton County Friends of the Family.
Every year, Casino Night draws a lively crowd to raise money for worthy organizations that deserve an extra boost from the community in recognition of the critical work they do to support some of our most vulnerable friends, family members, and neighbors. We acknowledge the critical role that Friends of the Family serves in providing safety, hope, healing, and justice to the 1 in 4 women in our community who have faced domestic and sexual violence. Even though it’s an unfortunate reality, we can’t and won’t bury our heads or pretend this violence doesn’t exist. By standing up, speaking out and helping to raise awareness, we hope we can provide one more person with the courage to seek help or prevent another person from falling victim to these unthinkable circumstances.
This year’s Casino Night is a re-imagined event with new and different activities so that there’s something for everyone. Attendees should come dressed in their finest denim, diamonds, and “cowboy cocktail attire” to enjoy a full Texas barbeque dinner, boot scoot to one of the area’s top DJs, try their luck at a variety of casino table games (Blackjack, Craps, Roulette and Poker) for a chance to win amazing raffle prizes, bid on coveted silent auction items, show off their rodeo skills on a mechanical bull, take a break by the fire pit with a cocktail or freshly rolled cigar, and envision themselves driving one of several luxury cars on display by one of our Diamond sponsors, Park Place Dealerships.
How often do you get to enjoy a fun night out while also helping to make a difference in someone’s life? We warmly welcome any and everyone to join us for this fun, meaningful event. Tickets are on sale here. but act fast! Early bird prices are only available through February 28. As an added incentive, the first 50 people who register will receive two tickets for a free adult beverage. If you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities or donating an item to the raffle or silent auction, please contact Tami Schmidt.
Please join us on March 22, help us support the women who lean on Denton County Friends of the Family, and most importantly… be the reason someone smiles today!