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Knowing everyone in a small community has its positive and negative effects

In a small community where everyone knows everyone and many people are related, it’s hard for anyone to seek help for abuse or housing services, even when there is a program like the Family Resource Center in Davenport.

Lynne Kuchenbuch
Lynne Kuchenbuch

Lynne Kuchenbuch, director of the Lincoln County nonprofit that provides victim advocacy and homeless services, said that farming towns are wonderful places to rear children. Children can walk or ride their bikes and go anywhere. Parents know neighbors will watch out for their children and call to report anything, because they care about each other.

“While there are positive aspects, there are also struggles when everyone knows everyone else, and knows or wants to know everything about everyone,” she said. “Behind everyone-knows-everything is secrecy about what happens behind closed doors, when someone who is charismatic outside those doors mistreats a spouse or child.

“To talk about domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse or elder abuse is to break the rule about not speaking about controversial issues,” Lynne said. “Most victims do not speak, so the community is not aware of the extent of abuse. If they speak, it’s hard for the community to believe the victim.”

The Family Resource Center began in 1989 to provide advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

In the early 2000s, the Department of Social and Health Services’ Community Service Office left Lincoln County. So the Family Resource Center helps people apply for DSHS food and medical assistance through its Basic Food Education and Outreach Program. It’s Economic Justice Program assists with grievances.

Lynne came for a few months in 1998 to help the center restructure, add to its mission and increase its staff to work with medical clinics, agencies, hospitals, public health, drug programs, police, the court and churches. She wound up staying as its director.

After marrying and moving to Wilbur in 1977, she worked as a clinical pastoral counselor serving people in Lincoln and Stevens counties from offices at the Sunrise Church in Wilbur—then her church—and at the Loon Lake Assembly of God Church. She now attends ACTS Healing Room in Spokane and lives north of Reardan.

In 1990, she earned a master’s degree in pastoral counseling at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Dixon, Mo., and was ordained in Wilbur.

The Family Resources Center serves Lincoln County’s 11,000 people with nine employees, five volunteers and a 24/7 crisis line.

While the center is a grassroots, community-based, secular nonprofit, the impetus for Lynne’s response to people who have been abused or raped, or who live in poverty is rooted in her faith. Many who work there are active in different churches.

Every day we deal with women living in trauma under the terrorist threat in their own homes,” she said. “God does not intend that anyone be abused in marriage or in any relationship.

“We assist women, men and children who are victims of crime, domestic violence or sexual assault,” she said.

Lynne said the greatest challenge in the rural culture comes from “unwritten, unspoken rules about who you are based on your name and your economic and social status.”

Beginning at school, children are often labeled from kindergarten and may experience bullying if they are seen as “different,” she pointed out. In a city school, there are many “different” children with whom they can associate.

If a child’s mother leaves her husband because of domestic violence, if police come to a home because of abuse or if there is a sexual assault, children may be labeled and treated negatively by peers, she said.

The Family Resource Center addresses these concerns proactively through educational opportunities, including life-skills and parenting classes. It is also welcomed in some of the county’s school districts where they have established trust to provide curricula on sensitive issues of abuse, sex, relationships and bullying.

While the curricula are based on “cultural competency,” Lynne said the values are like those of many faiths.

The programs teach children how to hold each other accountable, peer-to-peer, on bullying and abuse,” said Lynne, who believes that if they understand about healthy relationships at school, they will be better able to identify and practice healthy relationships in their homes and lives.

Some youth do 20-hour senior community-service projects with the center. Some teach women how to maintain their cars so they won’t be caught in the “middle of nowhere” and find their abuser pulling over “to help.”

Some women choose to live in an abusive relationship, because statistics show that women have a 70 percent greater chance of being murdered when they leave their abuser,” Lynne said.

When women in a small town report abuse, she said confidentiality in the community is difficult, but confidentiality is a core value at the Family Resource Center.

Along with the lack of anonymity, women seeking help struggle with the tendency to blame victims. The community is likely to blame the victim, rather than question the perpetrator’s behavior or demand justice because of his criminal behavior.

We have been called names, because it is difficult for the community to hold perpetrators accountable, because the perpetrators are neighbors, friends or family,” she said.
Advocacy is a sensitive task.

“We need to respect clients and be with them when they face their abusers in court, but we do not speak for them. That would reinforce their loss of power and control,” Lynne said.

“We are there to empower, to let a client know her options and possible consequences of the options. We will stand with her if she acts and understand if she does not.

Most perpetrators are never prosecuted, because there is not enough evidence to prosecute. Protective orders affect only physical separation, but do not stop harassment from 200 text mails or 20 phone calls a day,” she said. “These are not violations, but could lead to further conviction if reported.”

Some who leave abusive homes stay in town. Others leave. For those who leave, the center connects them with a network of six Northeast Washington county agencies which have shelters.

Some who stay are safe, but for some it’s costly. A perpetrator may use the legal system to harass the victim through child custody and visitation arrangements.

“Before my experience at FRC, I believed law enforcement could accomplish everything according to the law. That was a ‘fairy tale.’ Now I know how difficult it is to prosecute the cases.
“The sheriff’s department covers 2,300 square miles with eight incorporated towns and three unincorporated towns. So someone who calls for help has to wait,” Lynne said.

In her experience, churches can be positive or negative factors. Many who leave their spouses find it is hard to attend a church as a single person.

“Small-town churches are family based,” she said. “Churches need to be safe havens where victims can seek help, be received, understood and accepted without being urged to do something that could put them back in harm’s way, such as return to a violent relationship,” she said.

Domestic violence is about power and control, which may be manifested through spiritual, psychological, verbal, financial, sexual or other less visible forms of abuse than physical abuse.
In small communities, education is also reaching people one-by-one through modeling healthy relationships, which the center’s staff seeks to do. They practice nurturing and self-care, and maintaining mutual respect.

Now, the center is dealing with more homelessness, as local affordable rental housing is being sold. Its shelter, which has been growing in recent years, helps homeless families deal with issues of health, disability, drugs and other impediments to housing.

Because space in the shelter is limited, domestic violence victims take precedence, so there are hotel vouchers for the homeless when there is no other choice.

To meet increasing needs, the Family Resource Center is building a domestic violence shelter and a homeless shelter with two studio apartments, as part of a three-phase expansion on four acres in Davenport.

For information, call 725-4358.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © November 2007