The Alachua County Victim Services & Rape Crisis Center will run a 10-week support group for LGBT victims of intimate partner violence.
Jennifer Heard, an Alachua County victim advocate therapist, pitched the idea of an LGBT-specific support group.
“It’s the first time we’ve done a group that wasn’t geared specifically for female-identified victims or male-identified victims,” Heard said. “We opened this one up and said if you identify as LGBTQ and you’re a victim of intimate partner violence, regardless of the type – domestic, sexual, stalking – you’re invited to come participate in this group.”
The free and confidential support group will allow survivors of intimate partner violence to connect with other survivors and learn ways to heal in a safe environment.
While each group contains about four to six people and varies on subject matter, trust is always a huge topic during the 90-minute sessions.
The groups cover things such as what healthy relationships look like, how to spot manipulative behaviors, such as someone always wanting to know where their partner is, and how to get out of an unhealthy relationship.
“One of the things we looked at before was empowerment, feeling good about yourself, appreciating yourself for who you are,” Heard said. “Another big thing we go over is communication: what effective, healthy communication looks like, communicating when you’re angry, setting limits, that sort of thing.”
L.B. Hannahs, director for LGBT Affairs at the University of Florida, said she was pleased with the idea.
“It says to the community that the crisis center knows the specific issues and recognizes them and knows the barriers to LGBT people accessing general support groups for victims of personal violence,” Hannahs said. “Creating this group gives an option to folks who may not seek services because they are LGBT.”
This is the second time the group will be in session. The crisis center gave it a soft launch in March and April.
The first session ended up only including females. Among them was 37-year-old Jennifer Wester, who is bisexual and was trapped in an abusive same-sex relationship for more than two years.
“It went really bad, really fast,” Wester said. “It got to the point that I was so depressed and so miserable that when she would threaten to kill me, I wished she would. That was my rock bottom.”
That was six years ago. In Wester’s case, she was able to get out of her situation by walking away cold, leaving every possession she owned in her ex’s house, she said. But she wasn’t able to fully address the aftermath until she joined the support group.
It was hard to trust her instincts afterward. One of the best things, for her, was hearing that every person in the group felt the exact same way, she said.
“You don’t expect someone to be playing you the whole time,” she said. “It was just nice to hear other people talk about what they’ve been through because then you realize you’re not alone, and it just made such a difference.”
The relaxed atmosphere also helped, Wester said. The sessions took place in a conference room with couches and a big, wide window.
Sometimes they did activities like collages. Wester said she still has hers proudly hanging on her fridge as a reminder of all she has accomplished since.
“I feel like I’ve made so much progress,” she said. “I feel lighter now than I have in years.”
Victims interested in participating in the group should call Heard at 352-364-6737. In the case of an emergency, call 911 or Alachua County Victim Services at 352-264-6760.
“I’m still single now but I feel like I could give it a shot instead of just running away, which is what I have been doing,” she said. “The whole trust thing is hard because I didn’t want to take that chance, but I can now, and that’s something I really should thank them for.”