Harbor House a True Community Partner in Quest to Eradicate Domestic Violence

Public Health & Safety

October is Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and Orange County continues to do its part to tackle this issue head on. The Orange County Domestic Violence Commission –tasked with providing recommendations that can assist in eliminating domestic violence in our community – engages with many community partners, including Harbor House of Central Florida.

“My role is chief advocate against domestic violence in Orange County,” said Michelle Sperzel, CEO, Harbor House of Central Florida. “The goal is to keep domestic violence services top of mind for both businesses and community partners. We want the entire community to understand what domestic violence is and how they can advocate against it.”

Domestic violence is a pattern of violent and aggressive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks. It can also manifest as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners. It includes any assault, aggravated battery, sexual assault, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or a criminal offense resulting in physical injury of death of a household member by another residing in a home.

“It affects more than just the two people in the relationship, but also children, parents, neighbors, friends and employers,” stated Sperzel. “Abusers love when someone is isolated as a means of control, but when victims can talk to friends and coworkers and access community resources, they take some of that control back. If we’re all aware, it makes it harder for the perpetrator to get away with it.”

Harbor House services include an Emergency Shelter and Emergency Hot Line. It offers extended housing in the shelter and case management that includes creating viable safety plans for victims so they can get to where they want to be in their lives. Harbor House also works with various community partners, including attorneys, who represent victims and provide them with legal advice.

Prevention programs in local public schools help high schoolers and middle schoolers navigate relationships and set boundaries. Among its youth programs is Camp HOPE America, which helps children process and heal from trauma by developing coping skills.

“If you witness domestic violence as a child, you’re much more likely to experience it as an adult, either as a victim or a perpetrator, so we need to break this cycle,” explained Sperzel. “We show by moving forward their lives can be different, and they can make better choices in their relationships.”

Working with the Orange County Domestic Violence Commission has been beneficial for Sperzel, who appreciates the support. Established in 2005, the Commission has become an effective community resource that brings together decision makers who want to affect positive change and provides its own resources and volunteer opportunities.

“The work we do together shows how invested the County is in creating solutions to help those dealing with domestic violence,” she stated. “Being safe is a human right; Mayor Demings and the Commission recognize this and want to eradicate domestic violence so residents are safer. They’re sincere and effective advocates.”

To learn more about Harbor House services and programs, or to volunteer, go to Harbor House of Central Florida.

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