Zonta Club of Melbourne Leads 'Noisy' Efforts Against Domestic Violence
“Zonta envisions a world where no woman lives in fear of violence. Through the Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women campaign, our members and allies stand together, uniting our voices to advocate for all those who have suffered gender-based violence. Zonta is needed now, more than ever, to continue its work to end violence and build a better world for women and girls.”
– Ute Scholz
Zonta International President
Small but mighty, Zonta Club of Melbourne serves as the voice for those often rendered voiceless — the victims of domestic violence.
“For years, Zonta has been instrumental in protecting the lives of domestic violence victims,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey. “Their work in raising awareness about domestic violence is second to none. They are amazing partners with the sheriff’s office and the community.”
Club members discuss the issue at length throughout the year at programs aimed at law enforcement, physicians, schools, groups and anyone else willing to listen. The scholarships they provide for women open the door to the empowerment of well-paying jobs. In everything they do, Zontians are adamant about bringing domestic violence to the forefront of discussion and supporting organizations that help victims with their time, talent and treasure.
“We make the noise,” said club member Sandy Michelson, who as a survivor of domestic violence, knows all too well the challenges victims face.
Stats Reveal Endemic Problem
Domestic violence seems almost endemic to the human condition, in part because it has been swept into corners and justified as normal behavior for hundreds of years. The noise Zonta makes deserves to be heard, given these statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will experience violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime.
- Every day, domestic violence hotlines receive about 20,000 calls.
- 37.9% of Florida women experience intimate partner dating or sexual violence or intimate partner stalking.
- More than 100,000 domestic violence incidents are annually reported to police in Florida, yet about three-quarters of all domestic violence cases go unreported.
Domestic violence happens in Brevard, and the results are often tragic.
- Known for her smile and cheer, Nadene Cavaliere was always quick with a hug at the many community events where the Trustco Bank branch manager volunteered her time. Her many friends did not know that Cavaliere had endured domestic violence for decades. In March of 2022, the Bayside Lakes resident was killed in an apparent murder-suicide.
- Yolanda Garvin had made a career of ministering to others. The 30-year-old nursing assistant was shot and killed by her estranged husband in 2009 as she arrived for work at Parrish Medical Center. A restraining order against her abusive husband did not prevent him from keeping his promise to kill her because he could no longer control her.
The ultimate act of domestic violence devastated the North Brevard community. Parrish Medical Center and the City of Titusville partnered with the Women’s Center to open a domestic violence safe house and provide outreach services for domestic violence victims, services that continue to this day.
- Titusville mother-of-four Lori Upthegrove was active in her church and volunteered for groups such as Surfers for Autism. In 2017, she disappeared suddenly. Her husband, who had a history of domestic abuse, led the police to her body.
Domestic violence does not discriminate, plaguing the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and people of all educational backgrounds. Its bile seeps into the next generation to continue the awful cycle.
“It goes across races and finances and it’s not tied to education or where you live or work,” said Judge David Dugan, who started the Brevard County Domestic Violence Court in 1999, the same year he became a circuit judge.
Children who grow up amidst domestic violence are at risk of becoming the next generation of abusers and victims. Domestic violence is all about control, as the abuser may feel out of control and powerless because of dead-end jobs, the economy, alcohol, drugs, you name it. Controlling the victim — through physical abuse, finances, emotions, and verbally — gives the abuser the sense of power he lacks.
The victim, on the other hand, fears for herself, her children and her pets. She often is financially and socially isolated and may resign herself to her fate, feeling she doesn’t deserve a better life.
“You have two individuals who have low self-esteem,” said Michelson. “One overcompensates and the other is too fearful.”
Domestic violence easily becomes a pattern. A violent act may trigger a separation — until the abuser begs forgiveness and promises to reset. The victim reconciles with the abuser, until another violent act occurs, this one perhaps even more violent, and the cycle repeats. Statistics note an average of eight separations occur before the victim finally can break free.
Michelson considers herself extremely fortunate she had a friend who provided refuge when Michelson escaped a 17-year marriage fraught with violence. The mother of Serene Harbor president and CEO Beverly DeMeyer was not as fortunate.
“My mother left my father nine times back in the 1970s,” DeMeyer said.
She would return again and again because the support system needed to help victims was not available in the 1970s. Thanks to advocates like Zonta, resources are now available.
“Zonta is just a natural partner,” DeMeyer said.
Serene Harbor and the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program are the two state- certified domestic violence centers in Brevard, havens where victims can access help 24/7, 365 days a year.
Serene Harbor offers a 20-bed safe shelter for victims and their families and connects victims to a network of services that include career-creating vocational programs, credit-building assistance, counseling and victim advocacy. Because victims often continue in an abusive relationship if they cannot escape with their beloved pets, Serene Harbor even has an on-site kennel.
The Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program also is much more than an emergency shelter. A wide range of non-residential outreach programs are available, even if the victims are still with the abusive partner.
“Some feel safe staying where they are, so we work with them where they feel most comfortable,” said program executive director Cindy Mitchell.
The first domestic violence shelter in the county, the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program turns 40 in 2024. Captain Joy Wessel opened the fledgling shelter in 1982, but the place closed the following year because of lack of funds. In 1984, the county and United Way stepped in to help. Even today, every little donation helps. The famous Red Kettle bell ringers, particularly the volunteers at the Winn-Dixie in Rockledge-Viera, bring in much appreciated funds.
A High Priority
Domestic violence intervention is a high priority for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, typically the first resource victims will access. The Special Victims Unit conducts follow-up investigations on domestic violence related crimes and works diligently to identify and prevent further crimes of family violence. All of the agents assigned to this unit are experienced investigators who have received specific training on conducting domestic violence related investigations.
Although a robust network of nonprofits and government entities exist to help victims, they still face an uphill climb.
“The biggest challenge for them is affordable housing and transportation,” DeMeyer said.
Apartment rents are often way above what a victim can afford, and many do not have the credit needed for a lease.
Everyone involved in domestic abuse services agrees public awareness is key in decreasing domestic abuse.
“Family, friends, neighbors, strangers need to know when to step in to help,” said Stephanie Husted, executive director of the Women’s Center of Brevard, the county’s only certified rape crisis center. “We need more prevention and less tolerance of this form of behavior.”
Victims need to report any physical violence they endure from their partners. Domestic violence is a crime and the perpetrator can be subject to imprisonment and fines.
Domestic violence is not a rare occurrence individuals can shrug off. It affects every community in the county.
“You absolutely know somebody who is a victim,” Mitchell said.
24-Hour Florida Domestic Violence Hotline
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Special Victims Unit
Brevard County Domestic Violence Program in Cocoa
Hotline 321-631-2764 (voice & TDD)
Hotline via text 321-450-4325 Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Women's Center Domestic Violence 24-Hour Hotline:
SAVS 24 Hour Rape Helpline:
Zonta Club of Melbourne
Zonta Shoes Collection & Display
What: Zonta Club of Melbourne is creating a display of women’s shoes depicting the number of women who have been killed by an intimate partner as a result of domestic violence every day in our country.
Where: Highland Avenue Fellowship Church
1591 Highland Ave.
Exhibit hours: Saturday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- 3 women die daily as a result of domestic violence.
- 75% are killed when trying to leave or end the relationship. That is more than 1,000 women each year.
- 73% of abusers were abused as children.
- 50% of battered women also are harassed at the workplace.
Zonta hopes this display will also bring attention to business owners. Many battered women lose their jobs as employers are not aware of the circumstances.
Information will be available from Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Serene Harbor, Women’s Center and Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelter.
You can contribute new or gently used shoes for the display. After the event, they will be donated to local women’s shelters and/or women in need.
Drop off by Nov. 1 to:
2096 Sarno Road
Melbourne, FL 32935
Ask for Sharon