Phoenix Project aids domestic violence victims

Tammy Sharpe

FRONT ROYAL — Domestic violence is often hidden. Victims sometimes fear public reaction or they fear what will happen to their family if they seek help.

But there are signs of trouble even where there isn’t verbal confirmation, said Tammy Sharpe, executive director of the Phoenix Project in Front Royal.

“If you ask and there’s a pause,” she said, “that’s an answer. There’s an answer in that pause.”

Domestic violence isn’t often talked about, but Sharpe said things are improving. In Warren County last year, the Phoenix Project fielded 372 calls to its emergency hotline, 540-635-2300, and served 162 community members dealing with domestic abuse.

It’s difficult to say these numbers weren’t expected since the need in the community was clear to her when she and domestic abuse counselor Trish Kerns opened the Phoenix Project a year ago in a donated church space using grant funds from the United Way.

Trish Kerns

And community members they’ve served so far have indicated a continued need, though Sharpe said there’s still a large population out there that probably hasn’t called yet.

That’s where the organization’s website, http://www.phoenix-project.org, and Facebook page, can have a particular effect for victims researching options or hoping to make a silent plea for help.

Deriving its name from a mythological bird that perishes in flame but is reborn from the ashes of its former life, the Phoenix Project, now at 437 S. Royal Ave., is a symbol of strength through change.

“We really are the community’s response to domestic violence,” Sharpe said.

Recognizing its first anniversary this month, she said the Phoenix Project spent a good six months trying to saturate the community with name and logo recognition so victims of domestic abuse can get the referrals they need to help them take control of their lives.

“I think one of the things that we try to do is teach about healthy relationships,” Sharpe said. “So what does a health relationship look like? What are the characteristics? … such as mutual respect, equal power and control in the relationship, how to disagree in a healthy way.”

She also aims at debunking myths of abuse.

“People say they stay in those relationships because that’s what they want or that’s what they like, and oftentimes staying in a relationship is way more complicated than that,” Sharpe said.

[There is] economic dependency on someone, there’s that low self-esteem where you think that’s what you deserve. If you have children with the abuser, that makes it harder to separate,” she said. “There’s a lot of reasons why people stay in those relationships.”

In Winchester, The Laurel Center provides a women’s shelter and focuses its aid on victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, and in Shenandoah County, Response shines attention on sexual and domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Sharpe said victims of domestic violence are men, women or children who might also be victims of other forms of abuse.

In addition to physical injuries, Sharpe said, signs of abuse can include a partner who tries controlling the people or places with whom a loved one has contact.

“It’s OK to talk about it,” Sharpe said. “It doesn’t have to remain a secret.”

Next year, Sharpe say she hopes to expand services and add to her current staff of two. If successful, she will likely seek out larger office space.

Mainly funded by grants from the United Way, the Department of Social Services and the Agua Fund in Washington, D.C., the Phoenix Project is always in need of volunteers to man its 24-hour hotline and funding for programs hosted at civic organizations and support groups at schools.

All information is free, and services are confidential. Records are coded so they don’t identify clients.

Law enforcement and the court system, medical personnel, school administrators and guidance departments have been instrumental in providing referrals, and radio and news announcements have brought greater recognition to the service.

The Phoenix Project works with area services like the Department of Social Services, Faithworks, Blue Ridge Legal Services and rapid re-housing efforts to help victims find safe places to live, funding and sources of employment.

Lord Fairfax Community College also helps through its Workforce Solutions, which Kerns said “help to quickly give you a skill that’s marketable so you can be employed.”

Asked what defines success, Kerns said, “I think that we have helped a lot of people in one way or another, and that’s success. Success is that they’re free from any abuse, they’ve learned about healthy relationships, they’re empowered, they have more knowledge.”

Contact the Phoenix Project at 540-635-2302.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com