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The Oklahoman: A new escape route for domestic violence victims

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board
Published: Wed, July 31, 2019 

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Palomar is Oklahoma City's family justice center.

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We have written a handful of times since its opening in 2017 about the good work done by Palomar, an Oklahoma City facility that helps victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and human trafficking. A new initiative underway merits further attention.

The Oklahoman’s Darla Slipke wrote Sunday about a coding academy that will provide Palomar’s clients with an avenue to potential employment as software and web developers.

Palomar already offers a range of free services to those who enter its doors at 1140 N Hudson. These are provided by more than two dozen community partners, ranging from the Oklahoma City Police Department and the office of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and Infant Crisis Services and Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The services are all valuable. However, this new education offering is particularly noteworthy because completing it could give victims of domestic violence more confidence to leave the abusive relationship for good.

One of the heart-wrenching themes played out so often in domestic violence cases is the inability of victims to pack up and move out. Concerns about being able to support themselves or their children can be central to that decision-making, a mindset often bolstered by the abuser’s verbal putdowns and by their physical actions, such as withholding money and incurring enormous amounts of debt on joint accounts. Concerns about the partner not providing child support also contribute.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence notes that ruined credit ratings and sporadic work histories serve as impediments to those who do escape abusive relationships.

This new program, called Ctrl+Shift Code School, will be the community’s only full-time, immersive program of its kind and was made possible through an anonymous $50,000 donation. More donations are being sought, with a goal of making this program self-sustaining.

Survivors who enroll will pay nothing while in the program, but will pay back a part of the cost once they graduate if they find employment as a developer. Applications also are available to the public; cost for those enrollees will be $7,500. (Applications can be made at ctrl-shift.dev.)

The first group of students is expected to begin class in September. Students will attend full time for four months, then complete a two-month internship.

Domestic violence is a scourge, statewide and locally. Oklahoma’s rate of women killed by men ranks No. 11 nationally; in Oklahoma City, Palomar’s CEO told the city council recently that 911 dispatchers take one domestic violence-related call every 15 minutes, on average. Providing additional escape routes is important.

The driving force behind the coding academy is Bekah Mercer, Palomar’s marketing director and head of IT. “If we can empower them to find a new career and one that means that they don’t have to ever depend on anybody else ever again,” Mercer said, “then we’ve given them something really special.” Amen to that.