Helping HAVEN: Agency asks lawyers to wear denim to heighten awareness

By Gar Willoughby

Legal News

Oakland County nonprofit organization HAVEN is helping eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault in Southeast Michigan through the sponsorship of its fourth annual "Denim Day" on Wednesday, April 27.

HAVEN officials are asking local businesses and government agencies to make both a fashion and social statement by wearing denim. The social statement began more than a decade ago in the land of Armani, Gucci, Prada, and male "gusto"--Italy.

In 1998, a Supreme Court judge in Rome, Italy overturned the rape conviction of a 46-year old man because the 17-year-old victim was wearing tight jeans. Enraged by the verdict, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans on the steps of the Parliament building. Since that time, several nonprofit organizations including HAVEN have been organizing an annual Denim Day to protest sexual violence and to raise awareness throughout the United States.

HAVEN Court Advocate Liz Oakes hopes Denim Day will raise awareness regarding the plight of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who seek the nonprofit's assistance every year.

"We want people to understand the unrealistic myths related to sexual violence," Oakes said. "For instance, in the case in Rome, society was led to believe that wearing tight jeans meant consent. We want to impart upon everyone that no matter what a woman wears, no one deserves or provokes an act of sexual violence."

HAVEN Prevention Education Specialist Jennifer Hogan detailed several ways in which Oakland County businesses and government agencies can participate in Denim Day.

"Employers and/or court administrators can simply allow staff to wear denim jeans or a denim ribbon on April 27 to show support for survivors," Hogans said. "Additionally, we would be happy to provide additional information regarding HAVEN's resources upon request."

Besides public awareness campaigns, HAVEN has provided the surrounding communities of Oakland County with additional services for more than 35 years. In 1975, HAVEN was founded in conjunction with the YWCA of Pontiac as an all-volunteer crisis line for sexual assault survivors. Two years later, HAVEN broadened its services to include domestic violence services. In January 1979, HAVEN began providing shelter for battered women.

In the 1980s, HAVEN became a private nonprofit agency and separated from the YWCA. The organization broadened its services to add treatment for children suffering from physical and emotional abuse and neglect as well as sexual abuse. Today, HAVEN is the only organization in Oakland County that provides services exclusively for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault that include: court advocacy, a 24-hour first response crisis and support line for survivors, community education, individual and group counseling for survivors and their children, a men's battering program, a shelter, and a 24 hour sexual assault exam facility with specially trained nurses.

The acronym HAVEN originally stood for Helping Against Violent Encounters Now. Oakes noted that today the name now simply stands for itself.

"A haven is a place people can go to and feel safe," she said. "A phrase we often use here is 'Live Without Fear.' We work hard here to do whatever we can to make our clients feel safe, both emotionally and physically."

Hogan explained that there are several other ways in which the business and law community can assist HAVEN in their efforts to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault "Live Without Fear."

"We are always looking for pro-bono attorneys to help out. We refer a large amount of our clients to the Family Law Assistance Project (FLAP) if they are low income and cannot afford an attorney."

Forty-eight percent of HAVEN's funding comes from government sources. Though not an exhaustive list, the majority of government grants come from departments such as the Victim's of Crime Act and Violence Against Women Act. The remaining 52 percent of HAVEN's funding comes from fundraising and donations. Most of HAVEN's services are free. A small fee is charged for batterers counseling groups and the money earned from this goes back into the agency.

"We try to help as many survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault as possible from the resources that are donated to our organization through charitable giving," Oakes said.

Probation Officer Greg Komarzec, of 45-B District Court in Oak Park, is a strong supporter of HAVEN's mission.

"The origins of Denim Day demonstrate why survivors of domestic crime have historically had good cause to feel marginalized by criminal courts," Komarzec said. "HAVEN's advocacy has been essential in reshaping the way Oakland County courts strive to validate, to empower, and to protect survivors of domestic violence. Our court's specialized Domestic Violence docket would not be possible without HAVEN's partnership and guidance, which ensures that increased safety for the domestic crime survivor remains the ultimate goal in these cases."

If a business or government office would like to participate in Denim Day or assist HAVEN in any other way, contact Jennifer Hogan at jparker@haven-oakland.org or (248) 334-1284, ext. 350.

Published: Wed, Apr 20, 2011

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