I know there can be a lot of healthy discussion about the pros and cons of Wal-Mart, but the fact that they are everywhere cannot be disputed. And since that is true, they can provide a truly valuable resource to victims of domestic violence through programs like the one described below which started as a pilot program in Oklahoma and is now going statewide. Wal-Mart also has a similar program with the Attorney General's office in South Carolina.
The YWCA's Oklahoma Safeline has gotten nearly 40-percent busier in four months’ time, said Attorney General Drew Edmonson on Wednesday. And there is good reason to believe that many of the women calling the domestic violence and sexual assault hotline for the first time were Wal-Mart shoppers.
That’s because Wal-Mart and the attorney general’s office had partnered on a pilot program to let more women know there is help available to them if they are suffering from abuse.
For four months, beginning in November 2007, 10 Wal-Mart stores put up informational posters in women’s restrooms and fitting rooms.
The poster shows a woman and young boy, sitting on a public bench, a suitcase and a teddy bear on the ground nearby. The poster reads, in part, “Domestic Violence – Tell Someone … End the Silence, End the Violence.” The posters include small tear-off pads with the Oklahoma Safeline phone number and directions in English or Spanish encouraging the abused to call.
“It’s small, so a woman can put it in her purse or her pocket and call when she’s safe,” said Edmondson. Often, an abused woman will be so controlled by the abuser that she is rarely in public without him. “A quick trip to the Wal-Mart bathroom might be her only opportunity to seek help safely,” said Edmondson. “Our partnership with Wal-Mart has proven invaluable as a means to spread a message.”
The average increase in Safeline calls in the 10 communities where Wal-Mart placed posters was 39.4 percent. Two pilot stores were in Oklahoma City, and two were in Tulsa. In Poteau, Durant, Enid, Miami, Weatherford and Guymon, one store in each community featured the posters.
“It was kind of gradual,” said Stillwell regarding the bump in calls to the hotline. Oklahoma Safeline serves the entire state, but the increase in some areas was substantial. In Clinton, 15 miles west of Weatherford, the local domestic violence and sexual assault center marked a 215-percent increase in services provided.
Wal-Mart spokesperson Angela Stoner said that in many rural areas in particular, the Wal-Mart store serves as the heart of the community, where residents come for living necessities and even to socialize. But the level of the increase in calls to the Safeline was unexpected.
“Once we found out about the increase, we were more committed than ever to take this program to every store in the state,” said Stoner. All 85 Wal-Mart Supercenter and discount stores in Oklahoma will place the posters in restrooms and fitting rooms. Wal-Mart is paying the cost to print the posters.
Usually, when the attorney general mentions a company’s name in a press conference, it is to report wrongdoing, said Edmondson.
“It is a pleasure to talk about a company that has stepped up and committed resources to this pilot project,” said Edmondson, adding that the program is saving lives and changing the lives of women and children for the better.
Last year, 23,000 incidents of domestic violence and sexual abuse were reported in Oklahoma, said Josh Beasley, chief development officer for the YWCA. And typically, only one in seven incidents gets reported, he said.
(And just imagine the response if Wal-Mart stores in more states decided to partner with their attorney general's offices to do this!)