WEAVE fights traditional images of domestic violence offering men help from abusers
When they first opened their doors and became incorporated in 1978, they likely had no idea how their role might evolve as a provider of crisis intervention services in Sacramento. Even their name indicated they were going into business with the intent of helping women -- not men.
The founders called their organization WEAVE: Women Escaping A Violent Environment. 32 years later, the name endures.
But the times have changed, as has the clientele.
According to people who have used WEAVE services, the perception of the group remains largely the same as it was 30 years ago.
"I didn't know about them, and I didn't know they would help men," said Paul Smith, a WEAVE client.
Another WEAVE Client, Michael Dimmitt, said he also thought the organization might not be for him.
"It's not well known among men that WEAVE services are available to them," Dimmitt said. "Men don't talk about it with each other."
The "it" he's referring to is domestic violence. Four years ago, Dimmitt and Smith both would have had a hard time talking about their situations. Now, they have no problem sharing details they once considered mortifying.
"I had a physically abusive wife who did things such as slug me, and grab me," said Dimmitt. "It began on the honeymoon."
"My ex-wife started smacking me about year two of our marriage," said Smith. "She just beaned me clean across the face. I hadn't been hit that hard since football."
Both of their marriages ended in divorce in 2006. But in the aftermath, Dimmitt did one thing that Smith did not.
Dimmitt remembers that moment when he first walked into WEAVE headquarters, asking himself if he was going to the right place.
"When I first came here, I had trepidation," Dimmitt said. "Five minutes after being here, there was absolutely no concern on my part of being in there with the women. They accepted me. It was very comfortable."
It's a moment Smith never experienced because he thought WEAVE was just for women.
"I didn't understand what they were all about, for men," Smith said. "You don't know much as a man, because there are no services available for men. There's no WEAVE for men."
The organization's leader says it is a false perception they are constantly working to change.
"I know that there are men out there who need help," said WEAVE Executive Director Beth Hassett. She said her organization has had to reinvent how it does outreach in the community because the realm of domestic violence counseling has changed so much since the late 1970s.
"All agencies like WEAVE grew out of the women's movement," Hassett said. "We were organizations that were formed by women, for women.
"When I first got here, men were not allowed in some of our drop-in groups that are open to the community, so we made those co-ed," explained Hassett.
Still, she said one of their biggest challenges is putting male victims at ease. According to Hassett, many are too embarrassed to step forward and admit that they've been abused.
"We've got to figure out how to reach these people, because every victim needs help, and we're here for every victim," said Hassett.
According to the Department of Justice, about 835,000 men are assaulted by an intimate partner every year. For women, the number is 1.3 million.
"We're serving children, we're serving men," said Hassett. "We're serving victims of all sorts that don't fit into the mold they're imagining."
Dimmit convinced himself to break through that mold four years ago.
"It's provided balance and an openness to the future," he said. "I don't think I would have achieved that in other circumstances had it not been for WEAVE."
Smith said he wishes he'd taken the same approach.
"Had I had a different mind set, I probably would have been in the next day to WEAVE," Smith said.
The organization has had such a hard time changing the perception they're only for women, that they're considering a name change, or at least some kind of public awareness marketing campaign.
The goal is to make sure men realize WEAVE is a place for them to seek domestic violence counseling, just as it is for women.