Offering help and raising awareness on domestic violence


BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Several organizations are working to not only help victims and their families but to raise awareness.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 35% of women and men in Tennessee have experienced some sort of violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

Agencies like Branch House and Women of Mountain City Resource and Empowerment Center work to get victims out of those situations and educating the public on domestic violence.

“Many people don’t understand what domestic violence is,” said Deb Richmond the Branch House executive director. “They believe unless you have a broken arm or a black eye that you’re not a domestic violence victim. And many people who are actually victims don’t understand.”

Richmond said abuse often starts as a control issue, separating the victim from family and friends.

Without them, the person doesn’t have a support network to lean on. Advocates said often victims don’t realize how severe the abuse is and fight it alone.

“Domestic violence is a hidden disease in Mountain City,” said Olivia Stelter, the executive director at Women of Mountain City Resource and Empowerment Center. “A lot of it goes unreported, and when it does actually get reported, which isn’t as often, there’s not a lot of resources for women. We do have a domestic violence shelter, but a lot of women choose not to go there.”

These centers try to provide all resources necessary for a victim to get out under one roof when someone walks through their door.

Branch House and Women of Mountain City try to make seeking help accessible. Women of Mountain City recently changed its hours to 4 to 8 p.m on Monday and Tuesday and 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays so that women can come in after work and in the cover of darkness.

Once someone walks through the door, it takes a lot of resources to make an action plan and to find and maintain a stable living situation. These agencies don’t charge for any of their services.

“We help women start from the time that they leave to get out,” said Stelter. “So, if that involves housing, if that involves food, if that involves electric assistance, social programs, government programs, childcare programs — we use that space to provide the internet, the laptop and the guidance to get them there.”

“If you have had to leave or flee from your home in the middle of the night, you leave with nothing,” said Richmond. “You may have to relocate at a moment’s notice and you have nothing. Just imagine you don’t have dishes, you don’t have clothes, your children don’t have shoes, and you don’t have a stove to cook on.”

Richmond said on average, victims of domestic abuse will leave seven times before they leave for good.

The effects of domestic abuse impact more than just the victim, according to Stelter. She is a survivor of domestic violence herself and said she suffered from a lot of anxiety-induced stress.

According to Richmond, at the Branch House, they’ve seen a spike in domestic abuse cases and escalating violence during the pandemic with many people stuck at home with their abusers. Stelter said it also has long-lasting psychological impacts on children involved.

Richmond says supporting these agencies can be as simple as educating others on the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse.

“We can go out and teach in the community,” said Richmond. “We can teach about what we’re talking about today with organizations, and schools and law enforcement and EMS personnel, fire departments, we can teach programs to just about anybody in the community.”

On Friday, Oct. 1 Branch House will host its Annual Service & Protection Awards to remember local fallen officers and other officers’ dedication to ending the cycle of domestic violence in and around Sullivan County.

The public is welcome to attend the ceremony at 10 a.m. Richmond said the presentation should take about 30 minutes and a boxed lunch will be provided.

Women of Mountain City is seeking sponsors right now to keep their doors open next year.

Stelter said it takes about $30,000 to fund their programs, most of which comes from in-kind donations.

Branch House

313 Foothills Drive
Blountville, TN 37617

Phone: (423) 574-7233

Women of Mountain City Resource and Empowerment Center

1971B S. Shady St. 
Mountain City, TN 37683

(423) 491-5048

National Domestic Violence Hotline

1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233)

TEXT “Start” to 88788

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