Victims of domestic violence often feel they cannot escape their situation. Sometimes it is the fear of retribution from their abuser. Often it is a matter of financial dependency on the abuser.
But it can be done.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and The Center for Women and Families is working hard to spread the word on the services they offer to protect and educate victims to help them permanently flee abusive situations.
While some victims are afraid to speak out, some literally can’t—like Bear, a Pomeranian that suffered severe trauma while living in a home with domestic abuse. Bear’s owner sought shelter at The Center, bringing her pet with her through the Safe Haven program.
“Sixty-eight percent of women who have reported domestic violence also reported abuse to their pets,” explains Jeanine Triplett, vice-president of development and communications for The Center. “There is a strong correlation.”
In partnership with the Kentucky Humane Society, The Center opened Safe Haven in 2001, providing safe, temporary housing for pets whose owners might otherwise not have left for fear of abandoning them.
Animals can stay at The Center for 48 hours. “If they can’t resolve their issues or they need more time, the Humane Society takes them and finds a foster home for them,” Triplett says.
The secure, anonymous foster homes keep the animals for up to 90 days, giving the original family time to find secure housing. To prevent abusers from possibly tracking down the families, animal fosters are not allowed to post photos of the animals to social media sites.
Since they started keeping track in 2011, 48 animals have been helped through Safe Haven. About 50 percent of the animals were reunited with their owners. The rest were adopted to new, loving homes.
“Safe Haven is a real benefit because animals can’t come to us until we’re actually open,” said Beth Haendiges, public relations marketing manager for KHS. “Sometimes they come in the middle of the night.”
She continues, “Almost any of them that come in are traumatized. Generally, the animals that have come in have, at a minimum, witnessed violence. Some have been hurt themselves. Some have been beaten and abused as a way to keep the person in line.”
On October 4, The Center and KHS held a joint press conference announcing the complete renovation of the Safe Haven spaces at The Center.
“We completely renovated the whole building a year ago,” Triplett explains. “The space we ended up designating ended up being more of a pet closet than a pet room. It was on the map, but just wasn’t a priority. The space worked, but wasn’t ideal.”
Enter the Sam Swope Family Foundation and its $100,000 gift to The Center to fund two new pet spaces. “Patti Swope has a real passion for animals and is also real supportive of what we do,” says Triplett.
The original room is now the cat room, complete with a climbing space and cat condo. The new dog room is about twice the size and features professional kennels and food and toy storage.
“It’s very nice,” Triplett exclaims. “It’s a nice, big space for the animals. Animals are like people, they have trauma if they’re not in the right spaces.”
Angie Durgasingh, customer care manager with KHS, fostered Bear in 2012. She and others at KHS saw signs of his trauma.
“Bear would tremble and hide anytime somebody new came along,” Haendiges recalls. “If voices were raised he would hide or snuggle close to Angie.”
When the original owner was unable to resume caring for Bear, Angie adopted him.
“He does great now,” Haendiges reports. “He still takes a little time to warm up to new people, but he is very responsive. He’s a very happy dog now.”
Purple Purse Campaign
Lack of financial skills and resources is the main reason survivors of domestic violence stay in an abusive relationship. Often, the abuser holds complete control over the household finances.
The Center provides education and financial counseling to survivors to give them the skills they need to take over their own finances and establish credit in their own name.
To raise more money for their efforts, The Center has partnered with the Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse Challenge, a month-long online fundraising competition held every October.
Established in 2014, the first Purple Purse Challenge raised nearly $2.5 million. Last year’s event raised nearly $3.1 million for more than 160 community partners. This year, up to 250 organizations, including The Center, are taking part.
“The Allstate Foundation matches our donations on a sliding scale,” Triplett explains. “It’s a good way to give to The Center and have your money matched.”
Last year they raised about $41,000. The Center’s 2016 goal is $50,000. The campaign ends October 25.
“A lot of individuals won’t leave because of financial dependency,” says Triplett. “We helped a woman who was married for 15 years. He had control of everything. She had no credit – he wouldn’t allow her to have any.
“It’s about power and control. With domestic violence and sexual assault situations it’s not about sex. It’s about control.”
The Challenge supports Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse, financial education and empowerment services that help domestic abuse survivors build better lives for themselves and their families. Since 2005 Purple Purse has spent over $50 million and assisted over 800,000 survivors.
“They have grants and programs for women,” Triplett says. “When someone comes in, we have an individual on board who can help them write a resume, choose appropriate clothing for an interview, anything they need to get on their feet financially.”
What does The Center do?
The Center for Women and Families is more than 100 years old. In 2015 it provided services to 7,000 people in nine counties in the Kentuckiana area.
The Center is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have our own call center,” says Triplett. “Between the calls, the counseling and the shelter, we provide a lot of services for someone involved in a sexual assault or domestic violence situation.”
Services and programs include crisis intervention, emergency shelter, 24-hour telephone and walk-in support, 24-hour on-site advocacy at all area hospitals, sexual assault forensic exams, legal advocacy for emergency orders of protection, advocacy and support, case management, counseling and therapy, economic success/empowerment classes, transitional housing, and children’s services.
All of these services are free.
“We don’t have a sliding scale,” says Triplett. “People can seek us out and they don’t have to pay a dime. They just have to know we’re here. A lot of people assume domestic violence is a lower economic group problem. That’s just not true.”
The Center serves Bullitt, Henry, Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer, and Trimble counties in Kentucky and Clark and Floyd in Southern Indiana. For more information visit thecenteronline.org.