Over fifty men and women attended the February meeting of the Democratic Women’s Club of Marco (DWCM). The group was pleased to welcome a speaker from The Shelter for Abused Women and Children. Spokesperson, Vail Fisher gave a powerful PowerPoint presentation concerning domestic abuse and the main aspects of the shelter. The audience was impressed at the thoroughness and extent of the shelter and the help they offer to victims of domestic violence. Many participants also brought contributions of toiletries, toys, bedding, and towels to donate to the shelter.
Ms. Fisher told the group that “The Shelter for Abused Women and Children is working tirelessly to prevent, protect, and prevail against domestic violence.” She gave an example of a phone call to the shelter from a woman who seemed to be ordering a pizza. Rather than hang up, the Crisis Center operator asked the woman if she was being threatened. When the woman answered in the affirmative, the operator called the police to the home. This was just one example given to explain how the shelter works. One never knows who is being abused and all should keep an eye out for signs. People affiliated with the shelter hand out a common item to possible victims. This small, ordinary object that everyone carries in her purse contain the crisis hotline phone number of the shelter.
Ninety-four percent of victims of domestic violence are women. “Domestic violence does not discriminate. We are seeing frequencies of domestic violence throughout Collier County,” Ms. Fisher told the group. Abused women (and yes, men) come from every from every community and corner of the county. They come from all financial situations, from wealthy to poor, and from all ethnic groups. Anyone, anytime, anyplace, any age can be a victim of domestic violence. A victim may be a friend, a relative, a neighbor, or someone you think you know fairly well.
The mission of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children is to lead and collaborate with the community to prevent, protect, and to prevail over domestic violence through advocacy, empowerment, and change. Domestic violence is all about power and control.
The Shelter’s Outreach program, among other programs, addresses children who have been affected by domestic violence in their homes. The “Raising Gentle Men” program, for example, has a male leader who leads a “Hands are for Helping” program making the point that kids need to learn all things hands are good for, but not hitting. This male advocate goes into schools to expand this program. The Outreach program offers programs for middle- and high-school students as well, teen support groups, fomenting healthy relationships, etc. Another outreach program is the Haitian Outreach which offers a Creole-speaking advocate to help victims of domestic violence. And the Outreach program also offers free healing arts therapy, including yoga, meditation, aroma therapy, etc., all without cost.
Another outreach program offers economic empowerment to victims. Advocates find housing, grants, jobs, etc. to make victim’s lives easier when they leave the shelter. Another offers free legal services, a free attorney to represent a victim in court and help get restraining orders. Advocates also accompany the victims to court to add support, so that they are not alone.
The Shelter for Abused Women and Children includes a large Emergency Shelter and seven, soon to be eight cottages available every two years for a family that has suffered from domestic violence. These cottages are totally furnished by donations such as the ones given by members of the DWCM. Families also go to meetings and support groups. Women can stay up to 45 days in the Emergency Shelter but can apply for extensions. Each victim has an advocate. Advocates work on a case until it is resolved.
The Emergency Shelter remains open 24 hours a day. At least two advocates are on duty day and night to receive phone calls for help as well as welcome victims. And management is always available to help advocates. The building has family-based bedrooms with suites that can include a small kitchen for disabled people. There is a dining area and kitchen facility where food always is available. Residents can even cook if they wish. The Emergency Shelter includes a laundry room, childcare from 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM as well as an after-school program. The bus drops the children off at the Shelter. If there are more than 60 people who need help at one time, offices are turned into bedrooms. No one is ever turned away.
The Emergency Shelter houses up to 60 people. And has a kennel to welcome pets. In an abusive situation, victims do not wish to leave their pets to the mercy of the abuser. The day of the DWCM meeting, the Emergency Shelter housed 58 women and children, five dogs, two parrots, one ferret, one sugar glider, and two guinea pigs.
The Shelter for Abused Women and Children helps victims create a safety plan that reduces risk and keeps them safe. Each person has a written or verbal strategy and is unique to the situation. The average victim of domestic violence leaves the relationship seven times before finally leaving for good. The safety plan is for anyone living within a relationship in which there is domestic violence, anyone planning to leave the abusive situation, or anyone who has left the abuser (often more dangerous). The Sheriff’s office says that domestic violence is one of the most dangerous situations for the sheriffs.
In addition to all the help from the Outreach program and the Emergency Shelter, there are other resources for abused women and children. These resources include, Victim’s Compensation, Fresh Start grants which provide clothing for Dress for Success, parenting classes, and Micro grants that help provide fake addresses and help victims move out of the county if necessary.
If you know of anyone who needs help getting out of an abusive relationship, or if you, yourself are a victim of domestic violence, call the 24-hour, confidential helpline – 239-775-1101 or TTY: 230-775-4265. Remember, women, men, and children from all walks of life can be victims of domestic violence. As Ms. Fisher said, “Domestic violence does not discriminate.”
DWCM Meetings in April and May will take place the second Tuesday of the month and will be held at Mackle Park Community Center, 1361 Andalusia Terrace. The April 9 meeting keynote speaker will be from Rookery Bay, presenting on the environment.