Collaborative High Impact Grant Addressing Violence

Partnering to reduce sexual and intimate partner violence and child abuse in Buncombe County

Buncombe Partners in Prevention task force with Women for Women members: from left, Julia Horrocks, Pisgah Legal; Julia Akers, Women for Women Steering Committee; Angelica Wind, Our VOICE; Barbara Norman, former Women for Women Grants Chair; Geoff Sidoli, Mountain Child Advocacy Center; and April Burgess-Johnson, Helpmate. Photo by Lynne Harty.

In May 2018, WFW awarded its largest grant to date: $450,000 over three years to Buncombe Partners in Prevention, a collaborative involving Helpmate, Mountain Child Advocacy Center, Our VOICE and Pisgah Legal Services. The goal of the prevention project is to promote healthy relationships where people live, learn, work, play and worship, ultimately reducing the perpetration of sexual violence, intimate partner violence and child abuse in Buncombe County. Two years into the project, the Partners have made great strides in creating a safer, healthier, and stronger community.

With the goal of producing year-over-year comparative data to allow Buncombe County to track changes in community norms about violence, the Partners worked with Dr. Lyndi Hewitt, Associate Professor of Sociology at UNC Asheville, to develop a Community Attitudes Toward Violence survey. Responses collected thus far have shown wide variances in attitudes towards whether abusers have choice in their actions, the impact of mental illness on perpetration, and legal requirements for child abuse reporting. Gathering this information prompted the Partners to develop a fact sheet for community members who complete the survey to educate them about the prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child maltreatment. Additionally, survey results will be sorted by zip code in order to target specific prevention programming in areas of high need.

While the breadth of their prevention programming has been impressive - as of June 2020, the Partners have provided educational programming to over 36,000 individuals - the depth of their learning may be what is most inspiring. They have heard from marginalized people, particularly people of color, about the need to learn more about the specific needs, challenges and assets in communities before fully implementing programming there. After awarding three prevention mini grants in 2019, in 2020 the Partners used the mini grant funds for two Community Advisors, individuals living and working in marginalized communities. Communities of color and other marginalized groups experience violence at disproportionately higher rates and are simultaneously less likely to access traditional helping services. The goal is for the Advisors to help the Partners tie into the informal networks that already exist in communities and bolster those networks with bridges to traditional resources and access to evidence-based information. The Advisors are Michael Hayes with the Umoja Health, Wellness, and Justice Collective and Mikaila Mills with the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Advocacy Coalition.

Progress has also been made on a best practices tool for employers and schools focused on improving employee and student skills for building healthy relationships and effectively managing conflict. The Partners have worked with the HR Department from the City of Asheville, Asheville City and Buncombe County Schools, with multiple local bars and restaurants on anti-harassment policies, with salons, and with Mars Hill University, Warren Wilson College and UNC Asheville on bystander intervention programs. Additionally, the Partners are working to strengthen Bar Outreach by making it an evidence-based program. Part of this process includes creating hotspot maps that identify drug facilitated sexual assault reports in the county.

Advocacy is an important tool for the Partners as laws and policies at the federal, state and local level impact the acceptance and prevalence of family violence. Each year during the grant period, Pisgah Legal Services produces a white paper identifying and advocating for policy and legislative changes that impact the prevalence of violence on our area. This research and the outlined advocacy strategies guide the Partners and community members in their prevention efforts.

The Partners acknowledge that while direct service and intervention work can be measured in years, prevention work is measured by generations. They are committed to a sustained effort toward the reduction of sexual and intimate partner violence and child abuse in Buncombe County.