They believe you
Catalyst embraces, supports victims of abuse
Alyssa Cozine estimates she has given more than 500 presentations countywide about healthy relationships and intimate partner violence.
During her nearly six years as Catalyst Domestic Violence Services’ community educator, she cannot think of one presentation that hasn’t led to a teen or adult sharing a story of domestic violence, either experienced personally or by a friend or relative.
Cozine, who has her master’s degree in psychology, recalled one session in which she was teaching high-schoolers about the cycle of abuse—a theory explaining behavioral patterns in abusive relationships. In these instances, couples go through stages: tension—during which stress builds from daily life—leading to violence from the abuser, followed by a honeymoon, reconciliation or calm period, before tension begins to build again.
One girl had an epiphany during the session, confiding in Cozine: “That was present in my [former] relationship. … Looking back, that was definitely what was happening.”
This sort of moment—opening the eyes and minds of teens—is just one example of Catalyst’s outreach efforts, which also include preventative education in elementary schools. The private, not-for-profit agency has engaged in violence prevention and advocated for victims of domestic abuse, and their children, for more than 40 years.
Though often the hardest part of its work to fund, the organization’s education and outreach team has increased by two professionals in the past five years. In the same amount of time, it has created annual events like the Love Is acoustic showcase, in which local musicians perform songs that promote healthy relationships, and Youth Empowered, a conference that teaches eighth-graders about bystander intervention—how to step in safely during dangerous situations with their peers, before an assault happens.
Every October, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the agency puts together educational and free events to honor the lives of those lost to domestic violence and to celebrate healthy relationships. One in 3 people will experience relationship abuse in their lifetime, and that includes emotional abuse. Cozine says it is a common misconception that in order to be a victim of intimate partner abuse, someone has to experience physical pain.
This year, Catalyst has joined the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, taking on the theme of “the personal is political,” in light of witnessing the “heartbreak of survivors having to prove their trauma on the national stage.” This was most recently exemplified by Christine Blasey Ford, who publicly testified that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, prior to his appointment.
Organizations across the state are encouraging people to be informed voters and hold elected leaders to a standard of deeper understanding of the violence impacting survivors, families and communities.Since its founding in Chico in 1977, Catalyst has grown in many areas.
In the beginning, “there was a group of women who kept seeing the need [for refuge] and hearing stories about women wanting to leave relationships, feeling unsafe and having nowhere to go,” Associate Director Jackie Kent told the CN&R. “People took it upon themselves to have a community response and invited people into their own homes.”
Catalyst’s emergency shelter, Haven, opened in 1985. Today, after multiple expansions, it provides shelter for 32 domestic violence survivors of all gender identities.
Catalyst also offers four single-family transitional homes. There are drop-in centers in downtown Chico and Oroville, and by appointment in Paradise. Other services include counseling, a 24/7 hotline and legal help, the most common for filing restraining orders.
Last year, the agency served 1,259 adults and 72 children. It offered 8,679 nights of shelter, answered 2,731 crisis calls, welcomed 1,581 crisis drop-ins and provided 1,856 counseling appointments.
Lately, Catalyst has felt the momentum from the national #MeToo movement, as victims of intimate partner violence often have survived sexual abuse as well. Kent, who has been with Catalyst for eight years, said the agency has really focused on continuing “to send this message to survivors that they are worthy, they are valued, we’re here for them and we believe them.”
It feels like society has taken a step forward for now, Cozine added, because it’s always good when survivors feel comfortable enough to come forward and share their stories.
Still, the pair agree, many obstacles exist, and they are driven to create social change. Victims still feel a lot of guilt and shame about the abuse they have lived through, Kent said, or experience a negative reaction, such as disbelief, when they first try to tell someone what happened to them. Others have a hard time recognizing that they are victims, when abusive relationships or behavior was a normal aspect of their childhood. Physical barriers to leaving or reporting abusive relationships include housing, finances and transportation.
A lot of people don’t talk about healthy relationships, Cozine said, and domestic violence remains a really uncomfortable topic, especially when it comes to telling family members or friends.
Creating an ongoing dialogue in communities through educational programs, events and outreach—such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month—is an important part of bringing down those barriers, Cozine said, along with embracing survivors.
“The more we can talk about the real impact of violence on people’s lives and focus on promoting healthy relationships,” Kent added, “the more we’ll see a shift in the acceptability of violence in our community.”