Help available for LGBT domestic violence victims


Jennifer Wester, a victim of domestic violence, walks her friend Lynn's dog Gizelle, in Northeast Gainesville on Monday.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Su
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.

It has been six years, and Jennifer Wester is finally learning to trust again.

Wester, a victim of domestic violence, lasted almost two years with her partner before she decided she had had enough.

In April, she attended a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) support group for survivors of Intimate Partner Violence, a free 10-week program offered by the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center.

Wester said that hearing people talk about their similar experiences was part of the healing process for her.

“You hear other people who have been through the same stuff and it makes you feel like ‘wow you’re not alone,’ ” she said. “To me, that’s the core of the group and it’s what makes it work so well.”

The center plans to start another 10-week course starting late October. Those interested can call Jennifer Heard, Alachua County Victim Advocate therapist, at 264-6737 to set up an appointment. Once Heard figures out the availability of potential members, she will set dates for the meetings.

The previous group had four members and provided an intimate setting where people felt safe to tell their stories and receive advice, Heard said.

“Seeing them learn from each other, it’s a great thing to be part of that,” she said.

Heard said that because LGBT victims may sometimes feel that they will be judged and even to the point of being victimized again if they report the abuse, they prefer to stay quiet.

“This was one way for our services to be inclusive,” she said.

Before the weekly session begins, Heard said she first meets with each member to get a sense of what he or she is looking to gain from the group.

The meetings are small and Heard said she hopes to have six people for the upcoming support group.

Heard said her strategy to help survivors depends on what he or she may be looking for. At first, members will talk about their experiences if they feel comfortable and she, as well as the co-facilitator, will give advice on how to improve on issues they are experiencing.

“One of the things that one of the members of our group wanted to learn was to learn to trust and trust themselves,” she said.

The group forms a relationship with each other and people also learn from one another through their stories, Heard said.

Soon after her group meetings ended, Wester, who said that she loves to entertain, had a belated house warming party, something she had been hesitant about since she moved five years ago.

She said she has slowly begun to trust again but it will be a life-long struggle.

“I do trust in small ways,” she said, “and I was holding myself as (if) there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t move on and trust again, and they reminded me that I was being too hard on myself because I am trusting, and it’ll grow the more I work on it.”

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