Carey Roberts
September 9, 2008
Women avoid abuse shelters like the plague
By Carey Roberts

Christina Wilson was caught in an abusive relationship, so last November she took refuge at the Cherokee Family Violence Center in Canton, Ga. She hoped the 12-bed shelter would help her mend the wounds and get her back on her feet.

Pregnant with child, she was assigned to a room with another woman who seldom bathed. And the room itself smelled. When the shelter wouldn't move her to another room, Wilson filed a complaint.

In retaliation, Wilson found herself "exited" from the shelter, leaving her homeless. Then she had her baby. The little boy had acid reflux, which made swallowing milk difficult.

The shelter notified the Florida child abuse unit to be on the look-out for a homeless mother with an infant. So when the child abuse inspectors discovered the child was underweight, they scooped up the child, not to be returned to his mother's arms for five excruciating months.

Wilson sums up her experience with the Cherokee abuse shelter in one word: a "hardship."

No doubt some women have been helped by their stays at a shelter. But far too often, women experience more mistreatment in the shelter than at the hands of their abusers.

Reports of verbal abuse and assaults are not unusual. At the First Step shelter in Harrisonburg, Va., a resident was attacked by a drug-addled woman, demanding she hand over her phone card or else she would slit her throat.

Do these incidents represent the unfortunate exception to the rule, or do they foreshadow a pervasive problem?

In a surprising number of cases, shelters turn away the persons who need help the most.

St. Jude House in Crown Point, Ind. refused to admit an 18-year-old woman who was being tortured by her parents with electrical cables. And Joy Taylor recounts the story of a rape victim who was refused admission to a Washington state shelter because she didn't fall within its poverty guidelines.

"Shelters have denied housing to African American women for not sounding fearful enough or sounding too strong," reveals Tricia Bent-Goodley in her article, "Perceptions of Domestic Violence: A Dialogue with African American Women."

Once inside, these women discover the shelter services are either unhelpful or non-existent.

Peggy Grauwiler of New York University interviewed 10 abused women, whose experiences are summarized in her article, "Voices of Women." None of the ladies reported positive interactions with local shelters. One woman described the shelter this way: "It's a mess, it's a crowd...I was supposed to isolate everybody I knew, everything I knew."

Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling's research found that one-quarter of women in an abuse shelter were engaged in stalking their partners. But shelters don't provide counseling for women to overcome their penchant for abuse. That would run counter to the prevailing philosophy that the woman bears no responsibility for her actions.

Once these women leave the shelter they often eschew further contact. Angela Kalani, supervisor at the West Hawaii Shelter program, admits, "Many women who exit the shelter choose not to follow up with shelter staff. This seems to be the norm for many years."

So what has gone wrong?

First, shelter staff are poorly trained. The Florida Institute for Family Violence Studies reviewed reports from 13 states and found one of the most consistent problems is the need for "more well-trained and well-paid domestic violence center staff."

Second, many shelters have steeped themselves in a radical feminist ideology.

Researcher Sara Epstein reported on her survey of 111 shelters in the American Journal of Community Psychology. When asked to identify their main goal, 45% stated they endorsed the feminist mission "To help change societal patterns of violence against women." Only 25% said they were "devoted to the treatment and support of battered women."

For example, the Marin (Calif.) Abused Women's Services (M.A.W.S.) advertises its mission is to "end the violence, abuse, oppression, and intimidation of women" — but doesn't say a word about providing drug treatment, counseling, or anger management classes.

This means you're more likely to hear a neo-Marxist rant about the evils of patriarchy than get anything that resembles practical help for your problem.

Once word gets out that abuse shelters are an ideological cesspool, the women and men who truly need help stop coming.

But an empty shelter is a fund-raiser's nightmare. After all, if we're claiming to halt the epidemic of domestic violence, we need to show off a few warm bodies every now and then.

So the shelters have become filled with women who are druggies, homeless waifs, or are trying to escape a criminal record. That's why abused persons who really need help avoid shelters like the plague.

© Carey Roberts


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Carey Roberts

Carey Roberts is an analyst and commentator on political correctness. His best-known work was an exposé on Marxism and radical feminism... (more)

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