No Shelter From The Storm by Joy S. Taylor

Liberty, July 1997

© 1997, Liberty Foundation

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


 

| EJF Home | Find Help | Help the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| Domestic Violence Book | DV Site Map | Data tables | DV bibliography | DV index |

 

| Chapter 6 — Shelters For Battered Women |

| Next — Inside A 'Batterers Program' For 'Abused' Women In Barnstable, MA |

| Back — One Canadian Woman's Personal Story |


 
Abuse of battered women doesn't end at the shelter door.

 

In 1992, I decided to volunteer at a shelter for battered women in a small town in Washington state. I was there to fight a war, to hold high the ideals that had made me a feminist. I would help suffering women stand up for themselves, to see their womanhood as a strength and not a weakness. I would help them become self-reliant and self-aware, just as feminism was helping me become self-reliant and self-aware. I would help women escape damaging relationships. I would do good.

My volunteering began, like any job, with an application and an interview. The first hint of trouble came with this question:

"You have answered the crisis line. On the other end is a young woman who tells you that she has been raped while hitchhiking. She has no intention of getting a rape exam at the hospital and of filing charges with the police. She is asking you what she should do. What do you say to her?"

I would tell her that it wasn't her fault, I responded, and that she had every right not to report it if she didn't want to. I said I would encourage her to seek counseling, and to call the line whenever she needed to talk. I also said that I would suggest taking some kind of self-defense training if she hitchhiked regularly, since that is a dangerous way for a woman to travel.

My interviewer's face soured. No, she told me, I shouldn't tell a woman to learn self-defense. She should be able to walk down the street naked and not fear sexual assault. If I told her to be ready to defend herself in a risky situation, that meant I was blaming her for failing to do just that.

I was accepted nonetheless and began taking training classes, which didn't involve much training in anything but the politics of the women in charge. I was being exposed, I soon realized, to a different sort of feminism than the kind I had embraced. Men were always presented as potential abusers; any goodness one might see in them was only temporary. (At the agency, they weren't allowed to do anything except babysit kids and mow the lawn.) We learned that name-calling and battery deserved equal attention, and that it didn't matter whether the woman was engaging in the same behavior. (At the time I knew a couple, now divorced, who argued ferociously — and sometimes, after drinking, physically attacked each other. When a fellow volunteer asked me if I thought the woman was battered, I had to laugh: I had witnessed her return the violence in spades. She was in a bad relationship, but she was no victim.) We learned never to relate personal experiences to "clients," no matter how helpful it might have been to do so. No one's opinions or personal beliefs were ever considered valuable unless they had been filtered through the other women's ideological agendas.

When my training period ended, my evaluators found me fit to provide direct service to the clients. I decided to split my time between work at the shelter and work on the phones.

The shelter, I discovered, got most of its funding from the state. And the state required us to get as many statistics as we could from our clients. The shelter staff encouraged us to embellish these so as to increase our funding potential. I would not do this. At the time, I simply thought it dishonest to make up statistics. I soon decided that it wasn't always constructive to ask for accurate stats either. If a woman on the phone was telling me how embarrassed she was because she couldn't hide her bruises from her co-workers, it didn't seem appropriate to reply, "I see... and just what color is this skin that was bruised?"

Our intake forms required the women to report their families' finances, among other private information. All the staffers I did intakes with agreed that this information was irrelevant. But no one stopped asking the questions — even when it meant yet more pain for our clients.

The first intake I did was for a woman who was being beaten and raped regularly by her husband, a sergeant in the Army. Being a military wife requires traveling a lot, and as a result, she didn't really have any friends. But because her intake form revealed that she had a bachelor's degree in economics, our supervisors told us that we needed to ask her again if she didn't have somewhere else she could go. I've never been able to forget the shame and guilt on her face when we posed the question. At that moment, her pain was caused by government abuse, not spousal abuse. She had given us all the personal information she could, and we had used it against her. We eventually let her stay at the shelter. But the pain we inflicted upon her never entirely left her face. I know. I kept watching her, hoping it would.

I soon began advising women to downplay any education they had received and not to tell me about any money they had. I told them that this was personal information and that it was not anybody's business.

More: We required battered women to sign three forms before receiving so much as a band-aid or a cough drop. A woman had to ask twice before we could get any supplies she needed — shampoo, diapers, etc. — from storage. This was the actual policy. The supplies had all been donated by private businesses, to be freely given to anyone staying at the shelter. But the state regulated these private gifts to the point where it was difficult and demoralizing for the women to obtain them. Women staying at the shelter told me that they looked forward to my overnight shifts because they knew that I would get them such items without interrogating them.

Something was wrong here, and I was beginning to figure out what it was. Government, I realized, should have the same control over a women's shelter as it should over a uterus: none at all. I don't understand why feminists aren't screaming to restore control of these places to the women who founded them, or why so many think that state control provides these shelters with security. All it really provides is a leash — funding that can be revoked with a pen stroke if the government doesn't like how a shelter is complying with its regulations.

Eventually, I burned out, as so many shelter volunteers do. But it wasn't the horrific stories that the women had to tell me that did me in. It was the horrific treatment I was supposed to dole out to these vulnerable women and their children, and the fact that I was to do it in the guise of care.

Top


 

| EJF Home | Find Help | Help the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| Domestic Violence Book | DV Site Map | Data tables | DV bibliography | DV index |

 

| Chapter 6 — Shelters For Battered Women |

| Next — Inside A 'Batterers Program' For 'Abused' Women In Barnstable, MA |

| Back — One Canadian Woman's Personal Story |


 

This site is supported and maintained by the Equal Justice Foundation.

Last modified 3/26/14