October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, created by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a way of connecting advocates across the U.S. working to end violence against women and children. It evolved from the Day of Unity, first observed in October, 1981, which grew into a weeklong event devoted to activities mourning domestic violence victims, celebrating survivors, and uniting those dedicated to breaking the cycle of abuse. Today, it’s a federally-observed month dedicated to promoting awareness and action on domestic violence.
Domestic violence affects millions of people from all races, religions, and cultures—women, children, and men. It’s a serious crime that includes both physical and emotional abuse, but can be difficult to recognize; victims often hide it from public view, too afraid to seek help or unsure who they can talk to. Examples of domestic violence include yelling, humiliation, manipulation, coercion, threats, and stalking.
Working Against Violence, Inc. (WAVI) is the brainchild of three Rapid City women dedicated to finding ways to assist victims of domestic violence in western South Dakota. Their primary goals were to:
- Provide temporary emergency shelter, food, and support to women and children in crisis situations
- Educate the community on the issues of battering
In November of 1978, they received non-profit incorporation status from the State of South Dakota under the name Women and Violence, Inc. Their name evolved into its present incarnation, Working Against Violence, Inc. in 1996. Regardless of what the acronym has stood for, WAVI has been committed to helping survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout the years. They provide safe, temporary shelter for women, children, and men who have survived domestic violence and sexual assault in a 13-bedroom, ADA-compliant, drug- and alcohol-free shelter staffed 24 hours a day by advocates dedicated to helping them through this difficult period in their lives.
In addition, WAVI offers free support services to anybody in need, including:
- Safety planning
- Domestic violence education
- In-shelter children’s program
- Community referrals
- 24/7 crisis line
- Cellphones that only dial 911
Their 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached by dialing (605) 341-4808 or toll-free at (888) 716-9284.
Kristina Simmons, Development Director for WAVI, joined the organization in 2017 because she enjoys working with people and the issue of domestic violence touched her personally. “I felt a calling in my heart,” she says. “I work with an excellent team of people, and the Board is amazing and supportive.”
WAVI has strong working relationships with a large number of community agencies and resources in western South Dakota. They collaborate and partner with many organizations, including Cornerstone Mission, Youth & Family Services Counseling Center, Community Health of the Black Hills, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office/Rapid City Police Department’s CARE TEAM, Consumer Credit Counseling Services of the Black Hills, the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, and many others. In addition, WAVI staff plays a key role in the Pennington County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Forces. “We are always growing those relationships and building bridges toward a safer community,” Kristina says.
Private citizens can help out, too. WAVI relies on donations from individuals and businesses to supply essential items for those staying at the shelter; toiletries, clothing, and food are all appreciated. The shelves of one room affectionately referred to by staff members as “the Christmas Room” are stocked with toys to be distributed to children. Even pets are taken care of through a partnership with the Humane Society of the Black Hills.
WAVI provides a safe, supportive environment to anybody in need. In 2017, they became the first shelter in South Dakota to allow men—a move that illustrates how domestic violence can affect everybody. Despite some initial skepticism about housing men and women together, Kristina says there have been no issues. “All our victims are just trying to move on and heal,” she explains.
When asked what advice she would give abuse victims who haven’t sought help yet, Kristina doesn’t hesitate. “You have support,” she says. “As much as your abuser tells you that you don’t, you will have support. There’s somewhere to go.”
WAVI encourages Rapid City residents to wear purple every Friday during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a color that represents domestic violence awareness. Help spread the word by sharing social media photos and tagging WAVI, or emailing Kristina directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, WAVI holds an annual open house every December, inviting the public to tour the facility and speak directly with staff and board members. This year’s event takes place on December 4 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
For more information about WAVI or upcoming events, visit their webpage. This is one organization truly making an impact in the Rapid City community!
WORDS & PHOTOS: MARK PETRUSKA