Two Prince George's County organizations that received grants to help end domestic abuse are collaborating to expand services and resources to victims of domestic violence.
Seven organizations in Prince George's County were awarded $500,000 through the Domestic Violence Grant Program, which the county's council created last year to help end domestic violence.
The two organizations that received the highest awards are Community Legal Services and Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County, winning $100,000 in the category of advocacy and $108,630 in the category of prevention, respectively.
The four categories of the grant program are housing, prevention, counseling and advocacy. Organizations can apply to all four categories, if they choose.
The two groups plan on partnering to serve survivors, said Jessica Quincosa, Community Legal Services of Prince George's County's executive director.
Community Legal Services of Prince George's County, which provides civil legal services to low income residents, plans to use the grant funding to hire an "energetic" staff attorney to work with clients at Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County and assess a victim's current and future legal needs, Quincosa said.
These needs could include debt, protective orders or leases associated with a victim's abuser, she added.
"One of the biggest roadblocks for survivors is figuring out where to go," Quincosa said. "Using and trying to figure out how to navigate the court system is stressful so, ideally, with our services we can help that part of it and make sure they could figure out where to go next."
Sophie Ford, the Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County executive director, said the partnership with Community Legal Services of Prince George's County will help victims be more knowledgeable about pro bono legal services, protections and benefits.
Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County will use its grant funding to reach some in the southern part of the county, including Oxon Hill Temple Hills and Suitland, as well as provide staffing and access to crisis counseling, Ford said.
The county suffers from regional economic stratification, Ford said, making it more difficult for poorer communities to access resources to fight domestic violence. But the problem affects all parts of the county, Ford added.
"What we try to do in regards to closing that wealth paradox is to get people to see that this issue happens everywhere," Ford said. "We have Bowie pop up on our call radar screen, which is one of the more affluent areas in the county. The issue is just everywhere and there is nothing that can exclude you as far as financial resources and educational background."
Prince George's County leads the state in domestic violence-related fatalities, according to a Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence report from last year.
From July 2015 to July 2016, the state of Maryland saw 55 domestic violence-related fatalities, 18 of which were in Prince George's County, the report said.
Financial stressors and unemployment in poorer communities play a role in the county's high number of domestic violence fatalities, but Ford said there is no one identifiable reason for this fact.
The intersection of legal and social services, such as therapy and temporary cash assistance, can help "break the cycle" of domestic violence, Quincosa said.
Ford said promoting education about the many forms of domestic violence, as well as education about county resources for victims, is part of the solution.
"It's not just the black eyes and broken arms that go into intimate partner violence," Ford said. "Some people never get to the hit — they just constantly experience psychological, emotional and sometimes sexual violence."
The county council announced the awardees of the grant program earlier this month, with eight grants in total.
Other recipients include St. Matthew's Housing Corporation, Progressive Life Center, Community Advocates for Family and Youth, The Affiliated Sante Group and Community Crisis Services.
Community Advocates for Family and Youth was the only group that won in two categories, counseling and advocacy.
These eight grants were the second installment of the program. Last year the county council allocated the same $500,000 to awardees, investing a total of $1 million in the fight against domestic violence.
Council Chairman Derrick Leon Davis said collaboration among the county's nonprofit organizations are key in combating domestic violence.
"Domestic violence remains a major challenge, but each new collaboration brings a rich and fresh perspective to this crucial dialogue, and provides support in very practical ways on the ground," Davis said in a press release.
The University of Maryland offers several resources for students dealing with domestic violence at the Counseling Center and Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, including individual and group therapy.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Sept. 7 the decision to rollback Obama-era Title IX guidelines, which leaves this university in a "period of uncertainty," university President Wallace Loh told The Diamondback last month.
"There are places that are safe to go so people don't have to suffer in silence, including students or members of the University of Maryland community," Ford said.
Quincosa and Ford said both Community Legal Services and Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County will communicate with the other recipients to expand their collaborative efforts.
The organizations will begin receiving the grant's funding Nov. 1, Quincosa said.