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Sunday, December 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Idaho Legal Aid to help rural domestic violence victims

Idaho Legal Aid, which is housed in the Nampa Justice Center, serves Canyon, Adams, Gem, Payette, Washington and Owyhee counties. (Riley Bunch / Idaho Press)
Idaho Legal Aid, which is housed in the Nampa Justice Center, serves Canyon, Adams, Gem, Payette, Washington and Owyhee counties. (Riley Bunch / Idaho Press)
By Riley Bunch Idaho Press

Laura Diaz lived in Wilder – 30 minutes from the nearest grocery store – when her father allegedly shot and killed her mother on June 11, 2015.

Living in a rural community was a challenge her family faced when dealing with domestic violence. Seeking help was hard, she said, in a small circle where people know each other on a personal level.

“When you are a victim you’re in constant survival mode,” said Diaz, now 28.

You’re going to try to keep yourself as safe as possible, she said, but when services are far away, they can seem inaccessible.

Diaz urges domestic violence organizations to bridge the gap by seeking out those who might not be able to seek out them and providing bilingual or bicultural services.

“Resources should be out where the people are,” she said. “Not where the people need to be coming out to them.”

In September, Idaho Legal Aid Service, Inc. was awarded a federal grant of $480,014 from the Office on Violence Against Women’s Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program to help victims in rural communities.

Over the next three years, Idaho Legal Aid is partnering with crisis centers across Idaho to increase access to legal help and victim’s services. The effort will focus on specific needs organizations are seeing but are unable to meet.

Those needs include gas money for travel, bus tickets or money for a U-Haul if victims need to move out, and emergency housing funds for hotel rooms or a housing security deposit if there is no close shelter or shelter space. The grant will also go toward counseling and advocacy services as well as address the large need for translators in many cases.

“One unique thing that rural survivors face is that a counselor or law enforcement agent might be a family member or a friend,” said Gina Whitney, development director for Idaho Legal Aid. “In small communities it’s around you all the time, you can’t get away from it.”

In addition to a lack of services, Whitney said, a lack of funds have crisis centers “running on a shoestring.” The grant will hopefully create a “safety net for survivors.”

Nancy Hurd has been an attorney for Idaho Legal Aid – housed in the Nampa Justice center – for three years. The office services Canyon, Adams, Gem, Payette, Washington and Owyhee counties. Hurd has driven as far as Council to provide legal services for domestic violence victims.

“You’re asking people who live there to drive two hours for services,” said Hurd. “What if they don’t have a car? Or they have to pick up their kids from school at 3 p.m.? We run into all those issues because they just don’t have the resources.”

Hurd hopes that the grant money will trickle down far enough for them to be able to travel the extra miles for more people.

The small city of Salmon in Lemhi County has a population of a little over 3,000 people. In her memoir, “Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival,” Kelly Sundberg, 40, reflects on how her upbringing in the small community contributed to her decision to remain in a violent relationship with her husband for years.

In trying to explain why she stayed, Sundberg explored the culture of her childhood.

“Rural communities, a lot of times, are not as progressive,” said Sundberg. “Growing up as a girl in a place like that, you learn to make excuses for bad behavior.”

Hints of domestic violence within the community reoccurred. At one point, a little girl Sundberg babysat told her that her dad had hit her mom. But, she said, it was a rule of thumb to outweigh intervention with privacy.

“When you live in a small town,” she said, “you live under a microscope. There’s a lot of risk in pointing a finger like that. … People definitely take sides.”

For Sundberg, offering services are one thing, but educating rural communities about domestic violence is something that needs to be done. And now – more than ever – small towns may be receptive to it.

“We’re in a time right now that even in rural communities,” she said, “no one is missing the discussions going on in the media about various forms of domestic violence.”

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