The Midcoast support group for survivors of domestic abuse, New Hope For Women, officially changed its name last week to New Hope Midcoast to reflect all individuals who experience abuse, including men and people who are gender non-binary.
The organization has always assisted anyone who requested help, regardless of their gender, race or economic circumstance, Rebekah Paredes, executive director, said Nov. 16, during a webinar about the name change.
But the “For Women” part of New Hope Midcoast’s name could be misleading for men, transgender individuals or people who do not identify themselves as a specific gender.
Men who call the agency’s hotline often ask if New Hope only helps women, Vicky McCully, a New Hope hotline volunteer for five years, said during the presentation.
“I hope people of any gender will now feel comfortable reaching out,” McCully said.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jared Mitkus, who started work as a detective to focus on domestic violence investigations, said the agency’s name change will “make it easier to refer survivors to New Hope” and create advanced safety planning for those survivors.
The organization has been called New Hope for Women since the 1980s when it first started serving people in Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties. National conversations about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion spurred a discussion within the agency in 2020 about potentially changing its name to be more inclusive, along with an increase in the number of people it was serving during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and economic impact.
On average, New Hope serves about 1,500 individuals experiencing domestic abuse each year, Paredes said. This fiscal year, the organization served 209 residents from Lincoln County, compared to 187 in fiscal year 2020.
The majority of the people they serve identify as female, but “there has been an increase in the number of people who identify as men and transgender,” she said.
About 10% of New Hope’s clients identify their gender as something other than female. With the new name, the organization expects that percentage to increase.
However, most domestic violence is committed against women (82%) compared to men, according to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Nationally, one in four women and one in 10 men will experience sexual violence, physical violence or stalking that results in fear or concern for safety. More than half of respondents to the U.S. Transgender Survey, or 54%, experienced some form of intimate partner violence, including physical harm.
The pandemic in particular ignited an increase in the number of people seeking shelter and more urgent support. Before the pandemic, New Hope offered emergency sheltering in hotels and motels occasionally for a few nights to a week while survivors worked with the agency to decide their next step.
In fiscal year 2019, New Hope organized 203 “bednights;” a bednight being one person spending one night in a hotel (a family of four spending three nights in a hotel would be 12 bed nights).
In 2020, New Hope organized 3,056 bednights, a 2,100% increase from the previous year.
This year, New Hope organized 3,311 bednights, reflecting a sustained increase in the intensity of domestic abuse during the pandemic, according to an email statement from the nonprofit.
“We also know affordable housing in the Midcoast is very hard to come by and is in high demand, which in turn has increased the amount of time someone might need to spend in the emergency sheltering program,” the statement said. “We expect this increased need to continue and are currently seeking additional funding to support it.”
New Hope is holding a holiday cookie sale, along with fresh coffee and mugs to benefit programs that help survivors. Items can be ordered Nov. 17 to Dec. 4 on the agency website at newhopemidcoast.org or by calling 691-5969. Pickup is at New Hope Midcoast, 5 Beech St., Rockland from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 4:30 to 6 p.m. on either the Dec. 6 or 7.
You can reach New Hope Midcoast for information or support by calling the 24/7 helpline at 1-800-522-3304.