Carey Roberts
October 2, 2008
Few women in abuse shelters are true victims of violence
By Carey Roberts

Lachrymose tales of battered women abound when representatives of abuse shelters come calling, hat in hand, for taxpayer money. But what is the truth of the matter — are abuse shelters really brimming with hapless victims trying to break free of the cycle of violence?

The answer to that question is a surprising "No." In the great majority of cases, women at abuse shelters have suffered no physical injury or harm.

A former worker at the YWCA Emergency Shelter in Enid, Okla. reveals, "In all the time that I volunteered there, I saw one woman who showed signs of physical abuse." Likewise, the former director of a mid-Atlantic shelter reports, "only about one in 10 women had experienced any kind of physical injury."

Recently, researchers at Florida State University interviewed persons residing at abuse shelters in the state. "Medical/health" needs were mentioned only 9% of the time, and these were mostly women who needed to catch up on overdue dental and medical checks.

And the Hawaii Department of Human Services reports only 8% of persons at shelters require emergency medical attention — and emergency care can include non-abuse related problems like getting an abscessed tooth removed.

Somehow these reports don't mesh with the abuse industry's well-cultivated image of legions of bruised, beaten, and bloodied souls tending to their wounds.

And for those women who were physically harmed, many turn out to be just as abusive as the partners they are trying to escape from, according to Erin Pizzey, founder of the first abuse shelter in the world. Those findings are echoed by recent research.

In New Mexico, Satya Krishnan interviewed women residing at La Casa shelter in Las Cruces. The ladies turned out to be a feisty bunch — 29% admitted to having trouble controlling their violent behavior and 17% had been in jail in the past year.

And writing in the October 2006 issue of Violence and Victims, Dr. Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling reported that one-quarter of women at an Alabama shelter were currently stalking their partners.

So if the women in these shelters are seldom there to salve their injuries, what are they doing there?

One common reason is drug and alcohol abuse.

A resident at the First Step shelter in Harrisonburg, Va. revealed, "I soon discovered that I was the only woman there for protection purposes. Most of the other women were using the shelter as a halfway house. The other women had been kicked out by their spouses for drug use, and had no where else to go."

Among women who come to Hawaii abuse shelters, one in four are known to have substance abuse problems. At the New Mexico shelter, many women admitted to overindulging in alcohol — 14% had injured themselves or others as a result of drinking, and 85% were using alcohol during the abuse incident. And 39% of the women had engaged in illegal activities to get drugs during the previous year.

Homelessness is another reason why women patronize these facilities.

In Florida, housing was the number one need cited by shelter residents. In Hawaii, the Honolulu and Leeward Oahu shelters experienced a 40% decline in the number of residents last year. Why? Because three homeless shelters had opened their doors, almost halving the need for abuse services.

Of greater concern is that many shelter residents have a history of child abuse or neglect.

In San Diego, the local Child Protective Services office had open files on 38% of women in shelters, according to a 2003 survey by Susan Pennell and Cynthia Burke. In Hawaii, one in six women has a case with the local CPS.

And then there are those who check in to abuse shelters for assorted other reasons: they are buddy-buddy with the shelter director, they want free legal help for their divorce, or they want to pad their abuse resumé.

Or maybe they just want to snag a little R and R — like the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, Fla., where women come to be "pampered in a safe and convenient location."

A visitor to one shelter revealed, I was "shocked to see YOUNG women using the shelters like a babysitter, leaving small kids in top bunks and going out dancing and partying for the weekend...The shelter was full of UNOPENED toys, bikes, and expensive furniture donations."

So drop by to your local shelter and who are you likely to see? Among every 10 ladies, at most one has any physical injuries. Two or three are violent in their own right, some fleeing from a criminal record. Three to four women have a problem with alcohol or drug abuse. A few have histories of child abuse.

And the rest are old-fashioned freeloaders, gleefully whooping it up at taxpayer expense.

© Carey Roberts


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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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