Reaching Out to Victims of Domestic Violence

By Jennifer LaConte

Domestic violence is a crime that happens to people across all ethnicities and financial backgrounds. The single most dangerous call for law enforcement response is for domestic violence incidents and it is not uncommon for an officer to have to return repeatedly to the same household. Two area organizations—the Beginning Over Foundation and Turning Point of Lehigh Valley—are shining examples of both preventing abuse and empowering victims while raising awareness within the community. October is domestic violence awareness month and there are many ways to become involved.

Heidi Markow’s vision to change the lives of abused women began in 2005, after her sister, Robin Shaffer, was brutally murdered by her estranged husband. Shortly after her death, Markow learned that her sister’s killer had a violent past, including a restraining order issued by his first wife for trying to kill her with a pick ax. Markow organized Robin’s Law which would require those convicted of domestic violence crimes to be put into a state registry for domestic violence predators. She presented it to legislators who enthusiastically supported it and currently, the proposed law is in the house judiciary committee awaiting approval.

Markow was determined to continue to fight for victims of domestic violence. In 2006, she started the Beginning Over Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering, educating and advocating for those who are abused. Its mission is to help shelter and protect families in crisis, support long-term solutions to help rebuild and sustain healthy lives and to raise awareness about intimate partner violence through educational initiatives. Markow knows the effects of domestic violence firsthand as she once suffered at the hands of an abuser. She says, “Families want to heal with action. Beginning Over remains dedicated to help them transition to a healthy life.” She has even welcomed women and their children into her home if temporary housing was not available. Markow and her daughter also own The Purple Salon & Spa in Easton where they not only give complimentary services to victims but also donate a percentage to the foundation. To date, Markow has helped approximately 500 victims of abuse.

After fleeing an abusive husband, Vivian and her two frightened children arrived at the Beginning Over Foundation with only the clothes they wore and personal papers. Today, Vivian lives independently in a two-bedroom apartment, has a driver’s license, is studying for her GED and will attend Empire Beauty School on a scholarship fund set up by the Foundation. Vivian says, “Heidi is an angel and I will continue to help other victims, just as she helped me.”

The Beginning Over Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment & Family Advocacy Center will officially open this month at 2495 Freemansburg Ave, Suite 3, in Easton. Markow states, “It can take up to three months to become stable, secure and obtain permanent housing. After that, my goal is to help the victim become completely independent.” The Center will be comprised of three areas: Education, Technology and Information; Empowerment and Wellness; and Advocacy and Counseling. Programs include shelter referral, temporary housing, safety planning, obtaining restraining orders, counseling, teen dating abuse, exercise and nutrition, court preparation, educational planning, job training and legal assistance. Markow also looks forward to establishing positive relationships within the law enforcement community so that victims can feel more confident in reporting abuse.

The single most dangerous call for law enforcement response is for domestic violence incidents and it is not uncommon for an officer to  have to return repeatedly to the same household

As the Center readies for opening, there are several ways for the community to get involved. Local businesses can help to financially sponsor the Center or donate their time and talent within. Markow purchased a 3,500-square foot home that will become temporary housing for victims and their children and hopes that other domestic

violence agencies will duplicate the Foundation’s mission of empowerment through continued support. Where does Markow see herself in the future? She states, “Exactly where I am today, standing alongside victims and helping them every step of

the way.”

What began in 1978 as a domestic violence hotline has grown into one of the largest domestic violence intervention and prevention providers of the Lehigh Valley. Turning Point of Lehigh Valley, now in its 32nd year, offers shelter, a 24-hour helpline, individual and group counseling and community outreach. Last year, they assisted nearly 5,000 victims. Turning Point’s mission is to work toward the elimination of domestic violence, increase community awareness and empower victims of domestic violence by providing shelter and support services.

Ellen Mooney, Interim Executive Director and Lorna Clause, Director of Special Initiatives, are dedicated to their work with victims of abuse and their families. Mooney says that most victims come to one of the two shelters through the helpline while others are referred by court, hospitals, police, family and friends. (Shelters are fully secured.) She adds, “The helpline discusses all of the options available to a victim of domestic violence, whether it is shelter, safety planning, assistance with obtaining a restraining order or counseling. It is invaluable for a victim to know she is not alone.” If a woman decides to enter the shelter, Mooney says that she is immediately matched with an advocate who will assess her needs. (Men, which make up four percent of victims that Turning Point serves, are referred to a mens’ shelter). Victims and their children can live in the shelter for up to 30 days and may continue counseling and additional services afterwards. Turning Point collaborates with several area agencies in order to assist with securing an apartment, job training, educational opportunities, even outfitting a woman with a professional wardrobe. Mooney says that she often sees abused women who have come to Turning Point return confident and independent and wanting to help other women become empowered.

Clause dedicates herself to developing strong relationships within the community and furthering education about domestic violence. She says, “Domestic violence is not just a family issue. It can affect everyone, both directly and indirectly.” Turning Point partners with The Weller Center to discuss domestic violence in schools, most recently starting a pilot project with the Bethlehem Area School District. Clause notes, “We are creating a task force made up of administrators, teachers and parents to bring everyone to the table to raise awareness, specifically about teen dating violence.” Additionally, Turning Point will collaborate with employers to raise awareness about violence in the workplace.

The largest fundraiser for Turning Point is Step Out, a 5K Run/Walk held at 10am on October 2nd at the Lehigh Parkway. Last year, almost $60,000 was raised. On October 19th, a vigil will be held at the Colton Chapel at Lafayette College, beginning at 6:30pm to honor victims who have overcome abuse and those who have lost their lives.

For additional information on how you can help raise awareness and change the lives of abuse victims, visit or

Jennifer LoConte is a freelance writer and former employee of the Boston Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit. She hopes to raise more awareness within local law enforcement agencies.

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