An Open DoorThe Salvation Army offers help to people suffering domestic abuse
Paula and her husband have been married for more than 20 years, but it’s been a struggle for the Jamestown, N.Y., couple. They live on a meager income and have relatives who need help financially.
“We just don’t make enough to survive and most of our arguments are about finances,” she says.
While her husband has never been violent, Paula has been verbally abused and the arguments have escalated to the point she felt unsafe. She has twice left her home to defuse the situation and find solace for a few days at the Salvation Army’s Anew Center in Jamestown.
“They pray with you and ask you what you need and if you need assistance in leaving the situation,” Paula says of the staff. “They’re very nice people.”
Paula, who attends the corps in Jamestown, interacted with women who had suffered physical abuse.
“It’s bad for women sometimes, but that’s a good place there at the Anew Center,” she said. “It’s connected to the church and they have the resources to help people. It’s a great place—even for people who are homeless, but especially if they face domestic violence.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. About 20 people a minute experience physical violence from an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
While some evangelical churches have been criticized for turning a blind eye to domestic violence, The Salvation Army is an oasis offering help when someone has nowhere else to turn.
The Anew Center is known as a place to empower women who have suffered domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape. Women can find not only a shelter, but crisis intervention and support, including case management and medical and legal advocacy such as assistance in obtaining orders of protection.
Diana Butcher, program director, said the Anew Center is housed in a “big Civil War–era house” (a new facility should open in two to three years) featuring a 13–bed shelter that is dual licensed by the state for homeless and domes-tic violence survivors. Next door are several programs related to children and families, as well as rape and sexual assault prevention.
The center also runs a hotline and the staff is trained by the state as rape crisis counselors.
“There’s someone there 24 hours a day for the clients if they have physical needs like food and clothing,” Butcher said. “The staff will multi–task. They are busy watching kids, getting dinner, running educational groups, answering the hotline, and housekeeping.”
Anew also offers educational groups in the evening.
“It can be everything from budgeting to healthy relationship topics,” Butcher said. “We try to plan topics that interest the people who are there.”
Kristina Near, a case manager at Anew, said a major challenge is getting the women to live in community and follow rules.
“It can be daunting for somebody who is finally brave enough to make that choice to leave that relationship and then to get thrown into this whole new world, ” she said.
Butcher said many of the women come from backgrounds of mental health issues, substance abuse, trauma from past sexual or child abuse, a history of bad relationships, and poverty.
“We try to meet people where they’re at and don’t have those expectations of where we think they should be,” she said.
When the clients need spiritual help, the officers of the Jamestown Corps are available; a similar resource is available at all Salvation Army shelters. Butcher said staffers don’t push their faith unless a client asks. Some women have asked for prayer.
“If they open that door, then we feel that’s a comfortable time to bring that in,” Butcher said.
Linda Wright, director of social services in the Empire State Division, said The Salvation Army also runs a state–licensed domestic violence shelter in Elmira.
“The beauty of what we have in Jamestown is the continuum of the kinds of services and resources that start with going to college campuses and doing public education and prevention around sexual assault, to actually housing people and doing hospital visits and after care,” she said. “I don’t believe you’ll find very many other Salvation Army operations with such a continuum of services, especially at a small corps in a rural area, like Jamestown.”
Wright said a capital project is underway to build a new domestic violence shelter in Elmira. The Salvation Army’s Empire State Division also operates women and family shelters in Buffalo, Rochester, Schenectady, and Syracuse that sometimes deal with domestic violence.
Wright said her division sometimes sees a connection between domestic violence and human trafficking, something many other Salvation Army shelters confirm.
“There’s a huge intersection. We work with a lot of people who are fleeing domestic violence in human trafficking,” said Heather Larocca, assistant director at The Salvation Army’s New Day Center in Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia, domestic violence survivors are referred to a centralized intake site for the homeless. Many are referred to two Salvation Army long–term emergency shelters: the Red Shield Family Residence, which can house 41 families, and the Eliza Shirley House, which can handle 35.
“They meet with a caseworker and we provide referrals and support to them as they let us know their needs,” says Kelly Devlin, emergency housing director for Red Shield and the case manager supervisor at the Eliza Shirley House.
“It’s all related to poverty. It’s not just that they’re homeless. It’s usually a symptom of many things: domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, and poor mental health. We’re seeing more and more families struggle with drugs and alcohol.”
Devlin said The Salvation Army maintains a great relationship with Women Against Abuse and Women in Transition, two groups that work with domestic violence survivors.
Larocca, who worked for Women Against Abuse before joining The Salvation Army, said getting women to leave toxic relationships is a major challenge.
“The biggest impediment to women getting out is that the risk of them being murdered increases when they leave,” she said.
A 2018 report from the United Nations found that 58 percent of the 87,000 women who were murdered around the world in 2017 were killed by partners or a family member.
Larocca, who has worked as a children’s case manager and domestic violence hotline supervisor, said women are often reluctant to leave their homes and a relationship because when child custody is an issue, the courts often rule that living in a shelter makes one an unfit parent. She said courts also generally don’t take domestic violence into account unless a child is hurt.
“I think these women love their abuser and they want to have a family. They don’t want to break up their family, especially when they have kids together,” she said. “I think that keeps them there, but one of the things that would make them leave is if the kids get hurt or witness violence. That kind of puts them over the edge.”
Stay or Go?
Near said the reasons for a woman staying can be complex. Sometimes the abuser owns the family’s only vehicle. Sometimes the abuser is not the main bread winner or working at all, but provides child care. The desire to provide for family keeps many women home.
“Domestic violence is a major cause of women—single and married—becoming impoverished or homeless,” Near said. “That’s one of the largest factors in single women becoming impoverished is having to leave an abusive relationship. That’s clearly a big struggle.”
Barbara Butler, the program manager for the Zelma George Family Shelter in Cleveland, said the biggest challenge when women finally do flee is getting them to feel safe. Zelma George houses women and men with children and intact families. Last year, the shelter served 134 women and 43 percent reported being a victim of domestic violence.
Butler said she connects survivors with local domestic violence shelters for case management, along with counseling and spiritual help. The next step is to get them to admit they are in a domestic violence situation.
“Next, we attempt to connect them with someone who can help them accept the reality of domestic violence and its impact on them, their children, and their life,” she said. “Domestic violence knows no age, race or gender.”
Other challenges include retrieving important personal belongings such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, and driver’s licenses. “Unless they have previously made a ‘safety plan,’ getting such documents can be difficult,” said Butler.
Sarah DiMaio, the program director at Marshall House, said, “If a survivor is fleeing domestic violence in Connecticut and shows up at the Salvation Army’s Marshall House in Hartford, they are referred to the state hotline and go to Interval House, a local domestic violence shelter.
“We do have quite a number of women who have experienced domestic violence in their past,” DiMaio said. “We work with them to ensure the safety of the family.”
At Marshall House, a 27–bed shelter for women and children, residents receive case management as well as a clinician and therapist.
The McKenna House, a Salvation Army shelter in Concord, N.H., recently upgraded its security system to make domestic violence survivors safer.
Jenny Connor–Belcourt, the shelter director, said McKenna House helped 246 women last year, including 51 who reported a domestic violence history and 14 who were actively fleeing. The next step is to contact the state hotline.
“It certainly helps that we’re here because there is very little crisis space in the state of New Hampshire,” she said. “They rely on us to provide safe shelter space for women in need.”
A Noble Calling
Belcourt said a recent resident, who was disabled and fleeing domestic violence, was stressed and fearful as she was involved in an upcoming human trafficking case.
“We will sort of wrap our arms around someone like that and just try to provide them with the security and safety that they’re feel-ing they need,” she said.
As a child, Belcourt saw domestic violence and wants to make sure no one else does.
“I have a special heart for people in that predicament and want to do all I can to help them,” she said. “That’s not just victims of domestic violence, but anyone who feels vulnerable and needs protection. I was born this way and always want to protect those who need extra help.”
Butler said “God’s love for me” motivates her work.
“I have always loved helping others. Attending The Salvation Army as a child made that easier to do as an adult,” Butler said. “From the moment I walked through the shelter door, I was committed to helping the homeless.
“My staff and I feel good about the support and encouragement that we’ve given. We take pride in knowing that we have done all that we could to empower them and help them leave successfully for their new homes.”
Larocca said those women who are “vulnerable and oppressed” are the reason she keeps up the fight.
“Having a Christian faith allows me to show unconditional love and forgiveness and grace,” she said. “It’s sort of a ‘by the grace of God go I’ situation, where the only thing that separates you and me are circumstances. I think that’s all informed by my faith.”
Devlin said she is motivated by the children she sees in the shelters.
“Our children deserve all the best that we can give them. What keeps me going is seeing mom and dad get it all together so that their child has a chance to grow and thrive in Philadelphia” she said. “They’re the hope of the future of Philadelphia.”
Butcher, who grew up around domestic violence and is a child abuse survivor, said she used to take her work home with her and internalize each case, but she eventually learned that success is defined differently for each person.
“If the only thing we’ve done is provide three weeks in a shelter where she’s been safe and had a chance to get away from her perpetrator and think about her choices and options, that’s a success,” Butcher said. “If she left and was able to stay out of that relationship for six months, that’s a success. If she went back to her perpetrator, but she has more ways to stay safe emotionally and physically and she has better parenting skills, that’s a success.
“It can be a very messy job sometimes. For me, it’s knowing that people, if they have a little bit of support, can be successful. We don’t always have to be that broken person or that unsuccessful story. With a little bit of support and guidance, we can be our own success story.”
by Robert Mitchell
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, help is out there. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1–800–799–7233 or your local Salvation Army.