‘This shouldn’t happen to anyone’

How one Port Rich­mond wo­man vo­lun­teer­ing at Fishtown’s Luther­an Set­tle­ment House says she over­came ab­use to help oth­ers like her­self — without ever meet­ing them.

May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter speaks at Drexel Uni­versity at a Wo­men Against Ab­use pub­lic aware­ness event. Wo­men Against Ab­use helps op­er­ate the Phil­adelphia Do­mest­ic Vi­ol­ence Hot­line, along with Luther­an Set­tle­ment House in Fishtown and oth­ers. WO­MEN AGAINST AB­USE PHOTO

You’re a great mom, and you’re do­ing a really good job.

It’s so hard, I un­der­stand.

You’re so brave to call here.

These are some of the re­as­sur­ing words that can be heard filling the hall­ways up­stairs at Fishtown’s Luther­an Set­tle­ment House, where the cen­ter op­er­ates a do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence tele­phone helpline.

On one end of the line, callers might ask for help find­ing an emer­gency wo­men’s shel­ter for the night, or call need­ing ad­vice on how to keep them­selves safe in their homes.

On the oth­er end of the line are vo­lun­teers like Port Rich­mond’s Geor­geann New­man.

New­man, a moth­er of two, knows the words to say — the ones she said she would have most liked to have heard her­self. A vo­lun­teer with LSH since 2007, New­man said she turned to the agency when she was ex­per­i­en­cing ab­use in her own life.

New­man said she happened upon a card with a phone num­ber to call in the case of do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence — 1-866-SAFE-014. That num­ber dir­ects to call cen­ters at LSH, Con­greso, Wo­men Against Ab­use and Wo­men in Trans­ition.

When New­man reached LSH, she spoke to a help­ful call cen­ter vo­lun­teer, Kim Rick­us.

“She was so kind. Fi­nally, someone un­der­stood me,” New­man said.

New­man said she’s been con­fron­ted with the ques­tion of why any­one would stay in an ab­us­ive re­la­tion­ship.

“We [vic­tims of vi­ol­ence] are not stu­pid. We’re smart. We know what we have to do to keep our kids safe and us safe,” she said.
New­man ex­plained the choices wo­men might con­sider if they want to aban­don their ab­us­ive re­la­tion­ship.

“You can go to an apart­ment, a friend’s house, a hotel or a shel­ter,” New­man ex­plained. “But then, what if the kid gets sick, and there’s no money left for a hotel? What if your ab­user threatens your friends or fam­ily you’re liv­ing with? What if the shel­ter runs out of fund­ing? Where do you go with a sick kid and no money?”

In these cases, she con­tin­ued, many wo­men de­cide to stay with their ab­users, who are of­ten in con­trol of their vic­tims’ fin­an­cial well­being.

In fact, The New York Times re­por­ted in 2009, “As the re­ces­sion has deepened, do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence rates have ris­en in Phil­adelphia and across the na­tion.” The reas­on: it’s more dif­fi­cult to leave ab­us­ive re­la­tion­ships if the vic­tim of ab­use or his or her chil­dren are fin­an­cially de­pend­ent on the ab­user.

The do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence stat­ist­ics in the city are sober­ing — see do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence stat­ist­ics at the bot­tom of this story — but there are glim­mers of hope.

Ac­cord­ing to Katie Young-Wildes, dir­ect­or of fund de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­nic­a­tions with Wo­men Against Ab­use, is that the do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence hom­icide fig­ure was down to 24 in 2012. The highest num­ber in re­cent years, she said, was 37.

“It’s still not zero,” Young-Wildes said.

More good news: on May 13 it was an­nounced that a second WAA-run 100-bed emer­gency shel­ter for vic­tims would open in the city.

The new fa­cil­ity will be made pos­sible by a $3 mil­lion ap­pro­pri­ation from City Coun­cil. The city's Of­fice of Sup­port­ive Hous­ing awar­ded Wo­men Against Ab­use $2.5 mil­lion, and the re­mi­an­ing $500,000 was awar­ded to Con­greso, for oth­er forms of emer­gency hous­ing and sup­port for vic­tims of the Lat­ina com­munity, Young-Wildes said. The loc­a­tion of the new fa­cil­ity is un­dis­closed, but is sched­uled for com­ple­tion by the end of 2013.

Young-Wildes said the city doesn’t have one over­arch­ing cent­ral agency to ad­dress do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence is­sues dir­ectly, so WAA works with­in each sys­tem to im­ple­ment change.

“Our long-term vis­ion is to have hos­pit­als, court rooms, cops and ther­ap­ists all edu­ca­tion about do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence, so when a sur­viv­or comes to them, they can be linked to safe sup­ports,” she said.

LSH vo­lun­teers, New­man said, are trained to be able to of­fer a bevy of re­sources to give callers choices and guid­ance.

She tells wo­men in need of a safe space to call LSH back every single day un­til room in the shel­ters opens.

She also has key points she re­minds callers of.

“You re­as­sure them that this shouldn’t hap­pen to any­body,” New­man con­tin­ued. “They try to down­play them­selves, like, ‘If I didn’t do that, he wouldn’t have re­acted that way,’ and you have to say, ‘No, this shouldn’t hap­pen to any­one.”

Some­times wo­men call, New­man said, and then don’t leave their ab­users or go for help to any re­source. She said she’ll go to bed wor­ry­ing about a caller, but knows that by giv­ing them the in­form­a­tion they need, she’s “plant­ing a seed.”

“Hope­fully that per­son will call again,” she said. “That is em­power­ing.”

New­man said the his­tory of ab­use in her own life helps her be em­path­et­ic to callers and be a bet­ter vo­lun­teer.

“A lot of people who work here have been through do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence or they had a moth­er who went through it when they were a child. They’re very caring and un­der­stand­ing, be­cause they’ve seen it,” she said.

In the three days per week New­man works, she’ll get between 15 and 30 calls in about a 3-hour shift. The calls nev­er get any easi­er, she said.

So why does she con­tin­ue her vo­lun­teer work, des­pite the emo­tion­al chal­lenges?

“Know­ing where I was, and where I am — I want to help that per­son get to this point. Places like this are a glim­mer of sun­shine through the dark­ness,” she said. “And hope.” ••

Do­mest­ic Vi­ol­ence facts and fig­ures in Phil­adelphia and the na­tion

Hom­icides from do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence in Phil­adelphia:
Highest in ‘re­cent years,’ says WAA:  37
2009: 35, up 67% from 2008
2012: down to 24

Do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence shel­ter beds avail­able in cit­ies:
Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: 16 beds per 100,000 people
Bal­timore: 11 beds per 100,000
Phil­adelphia: 6 beds per 100,000*
*WAA will open a second shel­ter, with 100  
beds, by the end of 2013.

More WAA fig­ures:
8,465: The num­ber of re­quests for safety in WAA’s shel­ter that were turned away in 2012.
108,525: Do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence calls to the po­lice in 2012.
9,515: Num­ber of in­di­vidu­als who called the Phil­adelphia Do­mest­ic Vi­ol­ence Hot­line for as­sist­ance in 2011.

Sources: Wo­men Against Ab­use and The New York Times.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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