In 1977 Corvallis Women Against Rape opened one of Oregon’s first sexual assault hot lines.
The service only operated Friday through Sunday and the volunteers began working with the Sunflower House staff on expanding the program.
“One had $400 in the bank and the other had $300 … and off they went,” said Kate Caldwell of discussions that took place in 1981.
The Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence grew out of those conversations … with the Sunflower House morphing into Community Outreach Inc., which earlier this year celebrated its 50th anniversary.
CARDV has proved similarly durable in Linn and Benton counties. The social service agency hit 40 years this weekend, with a virtual celebration planned (see information box).
From that weekend hot line CARDV has grown to an agency with 25 employees. The hotline, which retains the same number 40 years later, 541-754-0110, operates 24/7/365 and fields 600 calls per month.
CARDV also offers shelter for survivors and their families, with 16 beds available as well as motel rooms depending on the needs of survivors and their families.
CARDV also has developed a presence in mid-valley schools, with staff advocates offering lessons on healthy relationships to eighth- through 12th-graders.
Recently the Gazette-Times sat down with Caldwell, CARDV’s executive director, and longtime staffer, volunteer and CARDV chronicler Mary Zelinka, who was in the room 40 years ago when CARDV was formed.
Caldwell served on the CARDV board before becoming executive director and also played a key role in the success of the Old Mill Center for Children and Families.
“The job is a wonderful opportunity for me to be making a different difference in our community,” Caldwell said. “And it is testing me every single day, I wouldn't have it any other way.”
“When I came here,” Caldwell, said, “I didn’t know that I was leading a bevy of ninjas helping keep people safe. It’s amazing work … you don’t get into this work unless you want to help someone. It’s hard work, emotional work and traumatic work. You have to have a team to support you.”
CARDV has a core work group of 16 advocates, who man the phones, work with clients, staff the shelters, do onsite work with the state Department of Human Services, local law enforcement and county courts and go in pairs to visit the schools.
“We won’t just give you the bus ticket,” Cadlwell said. “We’ll help you plan. We’ll give you what you need even if you come to us only with the clothes on your back. Maybe it means we’ll bring you into the shelter. We’ll figure out a plan to take care of the children. We help you figure out the options and do it safely.”
“Planning is key because things can change so quickly,” Zelinka said.
Why take two advocates to the schools?
Because, Caldwell says, some of the conversations about domestic violence can trigger memories or fuel a reaction from a student and one of the advocates can then move into a role of assisting that student.
CARDV usually participates in health or physical education classes and has relationships with every school district in Linn and Benton counties.
“We started the program working on healthy relationships and created additional curriculum around prevention,” Caldwell said. “We start with the idea of consent and teen dating and progress to the myriads of ways in which abuse can be happening. We ask the question ‘what is a healthy relationship?’
“Education is key to prevention. Our ultimate goal is to give high school kids all the tools in the toolbox that we can.”
Caldwell also believes that the program is particularly relevant and important in rural districts “because their resources are not always as vast.The school program also gives us an opportunity to break down process barriers to entry for adults who might feel we aren’t available to them.”
The COVID pandemic, obviously, has prevented CARDV from having that regular presence in the schools this year. In 2018-19, however, 7,500 students participated in the program.
“We’ve always done education in the schools,” said Zelinka, “but this is a formalized curriculum. We know more now.”
The pandemic has had other impacts on the domestic violence front as well. Families wound up isolated at home, given schools and day care were closed and many adults lost their jobs.
“I’m sure we have had people in unsafe situations that couldn’t call us,” Zelinka said. “If you are quarantined with an abuser you can’t go to the store to make a call.”
Also, Caldwell said, with the schools closed that extra set of eyes a teacher or school administrator might provide to detect something that might be troubling a student just weren’t available.
Caldwell also offers a reminder that with domestic violence there isn’t just one victim.
“Many times when we bring someone into our shelters they are not alone. Their kids are with them,” she said, “and their kids are victims, too. That’s tough … but it’s the reality."
“Anything that hurts mom and dad threatens their security,” said Zelinka of the impact of domestic violence on children.
The stress and emotional nature of the work also has led CARDV to look to the wellness and security of its own staffers.
“It is incredibly hard to take care of the team that is doing this work,” said Caldwell.
CARDV added a wellness center and confidential counseling and support for employees around the first of this year.
“We encourage self-care and good nutrition,” she said. “They need to take good care of themselves so we can continue this work.”
The challenge to employees “really came to light when we were working remotely,” Caldwell said. “Sometimes you need to find a way to decompress from that hot line call. If you are in the office you can go down the hall and talk to someone. Working remotely you don’t have that opportunity.”
Caldwell and Zelinka said the trauma of working with domestic violence survivors can produce challenges for CARDV employees that are similar to those of firefighters, EMTs and police officers.
Unfortunate, CARDV officials said, is that the domestic violence issue is not going away.
“The percentage of women who are victims of domestic violence from intimate partners has changed very little,” Caldwell said. “It’s about 37% in Oregon. That’s hasn’t changed and that is unfortunate. What has changed is how we do this work. It’s more formalized. Forty years ago we were keeping people safe in a much more old-fashioned way.”
“We know more now,” Zelinka said again. “There weren’t ‘best practices” in the past.”
Technology has changed the dynamic as well. Using Google or another search engine to find a person was inconceivable when CARDV started its hot line. Also, victims’ phones often must be “cleaned” or replaced to keep people safe.
Zelinka and Caldwell think that domestic violence is more top of mind than it used to be.
“There’s much more community awareness,” Zelinka said.
“When the #MeToo movement happened that got more people talking,” Caldwell said.
“Domestic violence services like this one laid the groundwork for #MeToo,” Zelinka said.