Domestic violence: The elephant in the room

OKEECHOBEE — “Domestic violence in Okeechobee is as ubiquitous as the cows and horses,” Jonathan Bean, director of Martha’s House, told the Okeechobee County commissioners at their Oct. 12 meeting.

“We just don’t notice it,” he said.

“I don’t want to change the culture of Okeechobee, but I would like to see domestic violence eliminated from our culture and our lives,” said Mr. Bean.

He said Martha’s House served about 400 women and 200 children in the past year.

“These are our sisters, our daughters, our mothers and our friends,” he said. “Their homes are not the safe retreats that they should be.

“These are the ones who are brave enough to come to us,” he added. “We know there are many more in the community who are not coming forward, who are not getting the help.

“Home should be a safe place,” he said. “The world is scary enough.”

Mr. Bean said Martha’s House was started in the mid-1980s by missionaries and Fran and Mary Thomas. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas ran Park Street Mission, which included a thrift store and a food pantry.

“They began to realize many of the women who were coming in there to get basic needs were victims of domestic violence and had nowhere to go to escape,” he said. “They started to take women into their own home.”

In 1988, Martha’s House was founded as a not-for-profit organization. Over the years, it has continued to grow to provide services for victims of domestic violence.

Over the years, the program to assist victims of domestic violence has grown.

Martha’s House is now about four times the size it was in 2000, said Mr. Bean, who noted the organization has 17 employees in addition to himself. Martha’s House has an attorney to help the clients with legal issues. The organization helps the clients find jobs and housing.

Martha’s House also provides education programs in the schools about dating violence, bullying and other related issues.

He said the name of the organization comes from the Bible story of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.

In the story, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet gleaning knowledge and wisdom, while Martha runs around taking care of everybody, Mr. Bean explained.

“So Fran and Mary Thomas felt it was appropriate to name the organization that took care of people in the community as Martha’s House.”

At their Oct. 12 meeting, the commissioners declared October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“The crime of domestic violence violates an individual’s privacy and dignity, security and humanity, due to systematic use of physical, emotional, sexual, psychological and economic control and/or abuse, including abuse to children and the elderly,” the proclamation states.

“The problems of domestic violence are not confined to any group or groups of people, but cut across all economic, racial and societal barriers, and are supported by societal indifferences.

“The impact of domestic violence is wide-ranging, directly affecting individuals and society as a whole, here in this community, throughout the United States and the world.”

Where is Martha?

During the month of October, the stuffed mascot of Martha’s House will travel around Okeechobee County and will be found in a different business each day to help bring attention to Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Mr. Bean of Martha’s House said purple is the color associated with domestic violence awareness. He said they chose an elephant as their mascot because domestic violence is like the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but no one talks about.

“Martha will spend the day at a different business in the community each day,” he said. A clue about the location for the day will be on the Martha’s House Facebook page.

Community members can go to the Facebook page for the clue, go to the business, take a “selfie” with Martha and then post the photo on the Martha’s House Facebook page.

Purple elephant with Martha’s House.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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