Heather Stevning is the Executive Director of Option House, Inc., a non-profit organization serving San Bernardino and surrounding cities since 1977. Option House is dedicated to promoting the well-being of victims impacted by domestic violence by providing shelter, outreach and legal services, as well as, educating the community about domestic violence.
Q: What services does Option House provide?
Stevning: Option House has a 32-bed temporary shelter (confidential location) in San Bernardino. In the 30-day program for those in crisis, trauma victims are offered a safe place to recover and focus, while moving away from the violent situation they have escaped. All necessities are provided such as food, clothing, transportation, legal advocacy and counseling. The shelter also has a children’s center with specialized programs for families.
Additional programs to shelter residents and the entire community include: parenting groups, support groups, individual counseling, and transitional planning. Clients are offered computer and job readiness training, budgeting, and other programs like art and music therapy, nutrition and fitness.
Outreach programs include education and prevention in local public schools, juvenile hall, probation department and department of corrections. Classes are also provided to perpetrators, in an attempt to stop the cycle of violence before it starts. Option House works with closely with the county TAD and CFS in promoting stronger families.
Q: How does someone know if they are in an abusive relationship?
Stevning: Most relationships have difficult times, but domestic violence is different from common relationship problems. It is a pattern of abuse that a partner (former or current) uses to control the behavior of another. Domestic violence affects all types of people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, sexual identity, social status, and religion. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.
Q: What does the general public need to know about domestic violence?
Stevning: The use of violence has little to do with the survivor’s behavior and everything to do with the partner’s need to control others, their choice to use physical force, their own attitudes and expectations about male/female roles, and the lack of negative consequences they experience from their use of violence. If you are being abused, you have probably been told, at one time or another, that you do things which “cause” them to be violent. It is important to know that by eliminating alcohol/drug use or minimizing the amount of stress in your relationship or in the abuser’s environment will rarely stop the abuse.
Q: How are children affected by domestic violence in the household?
Stevning: Abuse can have a devastating impact on children. Children usually have a very accurate perception of what is happening, even at a very early age. When there's violence in the home, children are always affected, even if they're asleep or not in the room when the abuse happens. They may feel scared and ashamed, or they may even think that they caused the problem. Worse, they can grow up thinking that it's okay to hurt others or let other people hurt them.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your push to bring domestic violence education into the local schools? And why?
Stevning: Domestic violence is something we cannot ignore. Most of us grew up with school campaigns like “Say No To Drugs,” “Red Ribbon Week,” and others. However, historically, our society has hesitated to address domestic violence and family violence, because we think they are too young. It is a fact that many of these children already experience or see this at home or somewhere in their “world.” We want to make it a topic of discussion; to give children permission to speak out if they are scared or confused. The only way to break the cycle of domestic violence, is to focus on education, prevention and advocacy with our children and young people. We need to listen to their voice; asking us to provide a safe, healthy and hopeful future.