Events in the Treasure Valley are shining a spotlight on domestic violence. A display in 2020 provided stark commentary on the tragic effects of this persistent problem. (Enterprise file photo)

ONTARIO – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and local officials hope public recognition of a persistent problem in Malheur County will climb.

Each week during the month Project DOVE, a local nonprofit that serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, is sponsoring events in the county to raise awareness about domestic violence.

A candlelight vigil was held Oct. 5 at Four Rivers Cultural Center’s Hikaru Mizu Japanese Garden.On Oct. 16 a bike ride and walk, which included a trunk and treat and costume competition, was held at Malheur County Community Corrections in Ontario.

The first annual Harvest Dinner, intended to recognize domestic violence survivors and supporters, is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 29, in Payette to cap events.

Project DOVE is now busier than usual, said director Terry Basford.

“Our shelter is full. And we have a waiting list,” said Basford.

The Project DOVE shelter in Ontario is configured into 12 rooms, said Basford.

“The demand on Project DOVE is certainly up. We are seeing an increase in requests for services,” said Basford.

Project DOVE relies on state grants and local donations. The uptick in people seeking domestic violence services has made an impact, said Basford.

“Our finances are always tight and now they are stretched even tighter,” said Basford.

The organization provides advocates to accompany a domestic violence victim to a court appearance. Project DOVE also links victims with local agencies regarding housing and food services. Most but not all domestic violence victims are women and often need housing assistance because the individuals they live with is their abuser.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said he has not seen a significant increase in the number of domestic violence cases filed by his office for prosecution, but he said the crime “hasn’t got any better,” in the county.

“It stays pretty consistent,” he said.

Malheur County Sheriff’s Office statistics show domestic violence calls this year are down from the past. From Jan. 1 through September, the sheriff’s office responded to 227 domestic violence calls and made nine arrests.

In 2018, the sheriff’s office responded to 242 domestic violence calls and made 13 arrests. In 2019 deputies responded to 260 domestic violence calls. In 2020, the sheriff’s office responded to 343 domestic violence calls.

Goldthorpe said that the Project DOVE shelter is at capacity could be a sign of two things.

“It could either indicate some kind of spike or it could mean more people are coming to Project DOVE when they have a problem,” said Goldthorpe, who serves on the organization’s board.

“Really, with the amount of cases we have, it (the shelter) should always be full,” he said.

Basford and Goldthorpe said the pandemic may also play a role in current domestic violence cases.

“For a year and a half, they were quarantined at home. We told people to stay home and stay safe but the reality is for many domestic violence victims home isn’t safe,” said Basford.

Basford said the shelter began to fill up late last summer.

“Probably about the first of August it just exploded,” said Basford.

Goldthorpe said the number of people seeking domestic violence assistance after a series of Covid lockdowns isn’t a surprise.

He said domestic violence awareness month “allows us to make sure people remember that just because it is not in your life doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.”

Goldthorpe said education about domestic violence is important.

“We try to get into schools and things to let people know violence is not the answer,” said Goldthorpe.

Basford said the number of people who are now seeking refuge from domestic violence is a “mixed blessing.”

“We are happy we are here but we don’t like being full because we want those numbers to go down,” said Basford.

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