AVDA’s programming aims to prevent domestic abuse relationships
One in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. As a mother of three girls, this fact sends chills down Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA) President and CEO Pam O’Brien’s spine.
“I cannot say that statistic without being affected by it personally,” O’Brien says, as she wipes the goosebumps off her arms. “If we haven’t been through it ourselves, we know someone who’s been through it.”
O’Brien’s Delray Beach-based organization wants to change this statistic by changing the way people think about abuse and relationships. AVDA’s mission is to provide violence-free relationships and social change by offering alternative choices to end violence and domestic abuse. The organization supports both female and male victims.
Since its creation in 1985, AVDA’s mission has expanded. While still helping domestic abuse victims, AVDA also focuses on preventive measures by educating the community about gender equity and mutual respect. Its programming has a strong presence in high schools throughout Palm Beach County.
AVDA also educates doctors and human service workers about warning signs. Additionally, its representatives talk to businesses and employers, because perpetrators may seek out their victims at work.
“One question we always get is, ‘why didn’t she just leave?’ We prefer to rephrase that: ‘Why on Earth did he harm her?’ That’s the point,” O’Brien says. “It’s not our place to judge why she didn’t go. We’re here to help, and let’s hold the perpetrator accountable for his actions and shift that mindset.”
Abuse can range from physical to emotional to financial. AVDA provides shelter, counseling and legal support to all victims who call its 24-hour hotline or visit its center asking for help. Its annual Heart of a Woman event in February helps raise money for these services. On. Feb. 28, #MeToo founder and social justice activist Tarana Burke will be the keynote speaker at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club.
“In her community, she found that it was empowering to speak up and say ‘Yes, I was raped. It was horrible. I’m dealing with it,’” O’Brien says. “By starting a #MeToo in her community, it made other women in her community feel like they could speak up and feel like they were not alone.”
AVDA, too, wants women to know they are not alone in their struggle. While there is no proof, O’Brien says she believes the #MeToo movement has caused more people to support AVDA and recognize abuse. She says more people have come to the shelter and outreach center.
In the future, AVDA hopes to create a community life enrichment center, where it can carry out its mission of prevention through education. “I’m committed to the mission—and certainly, having been a mom raising my three daughters pretty successfully and pretty much on my own, I have a lot of compassion for these people,” she says. “Every day there’s something new. We’re always dealing with unexpected situations, but to see how happy the survivors are is just very rewarding.”