By Jody Kerzman
“I just knew it was time to do something I was truly passionate about,” explains Yarbrough. “That led me here, to the Abused Adult Resource Center. I am a domestic violence crisis advocate.”
It’s a far cry from her job at the bank, and her banker’s hours. Lori works with women, and occasionally men, who have experienced domestic violence.
“Sometimes they’ve experienced the domestic violence just that day. Sometimes it happened the day before, and often, it was something that happened a long time ago, but they’re just now seeking help, whether that’s resources or counseling.”
Yarbrough is not a counselor, or even a social worker. What she is, is a good listener and a people person.
“It’s kind of strange, most of the people who do this job are social workers or counselors. I have a degree in business management. I did not go back to college when I changed careers,” she says. “I have just always been able to relate to people and different situations. I never judge people. I’m open and understanding, and I think that makes me good at this job.”
The seed for this career change was first planted in 2009, when Lori took a self defense class that, at the time, was called Impact (it’s now been renamed AWARE ND). She took the class as a favor to a friend.
“I actually did not want to take it,” she remembers. “I felt obligated to take it because one of the instructors was a very good friend. Talk about the things we do for our friends! But, once I got to the class, I fell in love. It wasn’t even so much the physical part of the class that I loved. I loved the self confidence you gain by taking a class like that. I’ve always been a confident person, but this class made me even more confident and I just wanted to share that with everyone I met.”
So when Lori was approached about becoming an instructor, she whole-heartedly said yes and started the training in 2009. She’s been teaching ever since.
“We changed the name to AWARE ND, which I think is such a great name. We are teaching women to be more aware of their surroundings,” explains Lori.
The 20-hour class typically starts on a Friday evening and runs though Sunday afternoon. It is an intense 20 hours. There is physical training; students learn how to get out of rape scenarios, what to do if someone grabs you from behind, or even if you’re being strangled.
“We also teach about boundaries,” says Lori. “I think people just don’t think about setting those boundaries. We teach students to be aware of your surroundings and to look confident, how to use your voice before things get physical.”
And there is plenty of time to share experiences. Lori says these conversations are helpful to everyone, even to the instructors.
“Everyone handles situations differently and each situation is different,” says Lori. “There really isn’t a right or a wrong way to handle the situation. Hearing how others would react, or have reacted, is helpful.”
The class is open to anyone over age 18. There is a $150 registration fee, but scholarships are available. Classes range in size from six people up to 20 people. Lori and her fellow instructors all donate their time. “We don’t do it to make money. We do it to teach people how to protect themselves,” says Lori.
“Every time I do a class I’m blown away by how awesome it is,” she adds. “We often have younger gals who are going off to college. It feels so good to give them that confidence boost so that they can safely go to their college campus and walk to their dorm and to class without being scared. That’s rewarding. But the most impactful stories are the ones where the students have a history of violence, domestic or sexual. They weren’t able to do anything then, but now they’re ready to do something and this class is the first step for them. Our class gives them a chance to create a different ending for themselves. That gets very emotional.”
Help for Everyone
There is more to Lori’s work than just teaching the AWARE ND class. She works around the clock to help victims in Bismarck and Mandan.
She also partners with the police departments. They give Lori all domestic violence incidence reports. She tries to make contact with the victims and offer them help, though it is rare that a victim is ready for her help.
“They’re usually a little standoffish, and I don’t blame them. All of a sudden there’s this person calling and asking personal questions,” says Lori. “But once they realize I’m calling to help them, they are usually a little more receptive. Quite often though, victims are not ready to file charges or get out of an abusive situation. That’s part of this job. You have to learn patience.”
In fact, patience is key when it comes to working with victims of domestic violence. Studies find that it takes an average of eight to ten times of trying to leave an abusive situation before a victim is actually able to leave.
“Domestic violence is usually physical, but there’s always something that leads up to that physical abuse,” she explains. ”The things that lead up to that are huge. Often it’s control. Control is a big reason you can’t get a person to leave a relationship. If a stranger assaulted you, you’d be willing to press charges, but when it’s someone you have a relationship with, maybe you have kids and a house. That changes things. If you leave that abuser, you may no longer have a roof over your head or food on the table. And if you have kids, it gets even harder to leave.”
It’s Lori’s job to understand this control, and unwillingness to leave an abusive situation. Her goal is simple: make sure victims know she is there when they’re ready to leave.
“It takes a lot of courage to leave a relationship, no matter how abusive and unhealthy it is.”
While as many as 95 percent of victims are women, men can be victims of domestic violence too. Lori and the rest of the staff at the AARC are equipped to help all victims, male and female.
“We’re not just a woman’s organization. We are here to help anyone who needs help,” says Lori. “Typically, it is women. I don’t know if there are more men out there who are victims. We are open to anyone who needs help. We’re working with our gay and lesbian community. Elder abuse is an issue and we have recently gotten some funds to work on that. AARC is definitely not just a women’s organization.”
Staying Safe in a Changing Community
Yarbrough has lived in Bismarck her entire life, and says she’s seen the community change. Although she says it’s still a safe place to live, it’s not the same as it was ten years ago.
“There has always been a lot of things happen that you don’t hear about, but I think more things are being reported now than years ago. But the public still doesn’t hear about most of the stuff that happens in the community,” says Lori. “I worry about my kids going to the mall alone or walking down the street. I worry about my nieces going out to the bars. There are just so many things that we didn’t worry about when we were their age that we have to worry about now. The city has changed.”
So, Lori says, it’s important that we raise our awareness, and take steps to protect ourselves.
“It’s important to know when you’re walking across a parking lot to your car, you are aware of who is around you. I can always say who is walking this way and that way,” says Lori. “I tell people not to stare, but it’s important to be aware. So often I see people walking across parking lots with their heads down, texting, completely oblivious about what’s going on around them. If someone robbed them, do you think they could identify the suspect?”
Lori says no matter what time of day, it’s important know your surroundings.
“If someone were to grab you, the best advice I can give you is to scream. Nine times out of ten they’ll let you go and back away. They don’t want any attention,” says Lori. “If they don’t, I tell women to use their elbows and knees. Your natural reaction is to hit with your hands and fists, but that can actually hurt you instead of your attacker. Use the strong parts of your body, like your elbows and knees so you don’t hurt yourself.”
She adds, don’t be afraid to call 911. “If you feel uncomfortable, call 911 and get the police involved. Even if they can’t make an arrest, they can at least split the parties up and resolve the situation somewhat.”
Lori says it’s also important to look for signs a woman might need help, and don’t be afraid to get involved.
“I’ve read police reports where people have heard a couple fighting for an hour and then finally called the cops,” says Lori. “People just want to mind their own business and figure what happens behind closed doors isn’t their business. It actually is. I hear people say ‘I always hear them fighting. They fight every night so I just quit calling the police.’ When you talk about the struggles of why a victim can’t leave, that is huge. As a community, we need to be involved, whether that means calling the police or just being there for her when she decides it’s time to leave the relationship.”
Lori says education may be the secret; education for both the victim and those who may one day help a victim escape and build a new life. Meantime, Lori will continue plugging away, finding her way in this new career that has given her a new purpose in her own life.