Shelters Of Ill Repute by Terri Lynn Tersak

© 2006 Terri Lynn Tersak, True Equality Network

Used with permission of the author


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Jane Williamson (not her real name) is just one woman who was victimized by the failure of the domestic violence support system. Jane suffered repeated blows to the side of her head. She went to an abuse shelter, complained about ringing in her right ear and blurred vision in her eye. The shelter staff was unable to detect any visible signs of her partner's assault. They told her the symptoms would soon clear up, then sent her off to see a psychiatrist.

Within a few days Jane became deaf in that ear and blind in one eye. She will never recover her senses. Her attacker never saw a single minute in jail, nor did he pay a cent toward her medical bills.

Sadly, cases like Jane's are common. Indeed, the majority of nearly 10,000 women who work with the True Equality Network have been in Jane Williamson's shoes themselves — beaten and forgotten.

I encounter a frightening number of victims of severe battery who recount an eerily similar story; they went through the courts and almost immediately things got worse for them.

I have experienced this myself, personally. The way things operate today you are better off leaving town and changing your name than dialing 911 after being beaten by an intimate partner. An expansive annotated list of government and academic studies supporting this concern is in the article Domestic Violence Awareness Month by Richard L. Davis.


Profiting from DV one way or another


If a woman does seek shelter, as so widely touted by the DV ads, what is likely to happen?

True Equality Network conducted an abuse shelter investigation in twenty-one states. This investigation involves having women go to a shelter saying she needs help. The laws in most states permit women to stay in a shelter for 72 hours without filing a complaint to cover the needs of those who "escape" during weekend and holiday periods when the courts are closed. This open period of access was used to learn how the shelter operates without filing a complaint.

After only a few months this investigation uncovered illegal operations, including shelters operating prostitution services, drug dealing, and shelter staffers arranging to have the shelter clients provide sexual favors to law enforcement officers in exchange for the officers' perjured testimony in court. In one eastern state our investigator made an anonymous tip to the local law enforcement agency that resulted in the arrest of two sheriffs deputies working as pimps for a prostitution service.

The women of True Equality Network have spent almost five years in the courthouses of 97 counties across 17 states. During this period they have interviewed over 15,000 plaintiffs in domestic violence cases just before they entered the courtroom. The overwhelming number of those interviewed did not attempt to mask the real reasons they filed a domestic violence charge: control, money, and revenge — for everything you could possibly imagine — everything, that is, except acts of domestic violence.

Subsequently, True Equality Network asked prominent members of the counties in which the plaintiff surveys were conducted to interview the judges who heard these cases. Every single one of the judges interviewed corroborated the study's findings of pervasive levels of false claims of domestic violence in their court. These judges also state they know that the attorneys in these cases — including Legal Services Corporation grantees — are suborning perjury by scripting the statements of these women. Moreover, they expressed concern that their district attorneys were not prosecuting these acts.


Violence Against Women Act: The fast food of law


If misery loves company then the one success of VAWA has been to make sure victims of extreme domestic brutalities have plenty of company.

As I reflect on my own experiences with domestic violence and the pretense of help our abuse system claims to offer, I find myself grieving most for today's victims. As the years pass, our domestic violence systems under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offer less and less help to the most severely battered, but ever increasing rewards for those who manipulate the systems.

Why do we not only keep such a failure operating, but also expand its influence and funding year after year? I believe it follows the same logic as our society's affinity for fast food — instant gratification. It is quick, easy to get, and satisfies an immediate desire.

However, that satisfaction is hollow and short lived, and often creates unintended, unexpected problems for truly battered women and men. Meanwhile, the promoters make a fortune selling their ineffective and often harmful product. In order to keep the money rolling in, they must actively promote it to keep people believing in it, wanting it, and convinced it is a good thing for everyone, irrespective of the facts. To these ends, each year we dedicate a month to promote everything the Violence Against Women Act pretends to bring us, under the guise of protecting women from abuse and providing help to those that have suffered it.


Money is the root of this evil


American taxpayers support the VA WA and other domestic violence programs to the tune of more than $1 billion a year. So what's gone wrong?

Individuals who file false or trivial claims of domestic violence are accorded the same standing by the abuse shelters, law enforcement, and courts as the most seriously battered women. In a system rife with fraudulent claims, it is easy to understand why the Jane Williamson's of the world are being silenced while abuse shelters, law enforcement personnel, and social welfare programs are profiting handsomely.

Prior to the July 19, 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the reauthorization of VAWA, many people, including myself, tried to tell our side about the failures of VAWA. Several scientists with decades of experience studying the dynamics of intimate partner violence also asked to testify at this hearing. However, even after running full-page ads in the Washington D.C. based newspapers expressing our concerns, we were all denied time to speak at the hearing.

So who did testify? A retired NBA basketball legend, a movie star, and a vice president of a cosmetics company. If these are qualifications the U.S. Senate considers appropriate for someone to testify as an expert witness on the subject matter of VAWA, whom would they invite to testify about violence on prime time TV? A few Tibetan monks perhaps?

The existing system must be solving some concern or no one would support it. Then whom does it help and in what ways?

It is well known and documented that false allegations of domestic violence have long been the tactical weapon of choice to gain advantage in divorce and custody cases. This provides financial rewards not just to the women, but also to the states through a vast array of federal funding sources, many of which have nothing to do with domestic violence. Examples include increased incentives from federal child support collection funding, TANF, HUD and many others, giving the states as much incentive to perpetuate the fraud as those that are actually perpetrating it.

Two special reports from RADAR — Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting are worthwhile reading: Perverse Incentives, False Allegations, and Forgotten Children outlines the monetary motivators for filing false allegations of domestic violence and An Epidemic of Civil Rights Abuses: Ranking of States Domestic Violence Laws covers which states provide the greatest incentives for perpetrating these acts of fraud.

The bottom line is our abuse support system seems to be supporting everyone except the severely abused. They have no shelter.


Terri Lynn Tersak is a professional commercial photographer, the President and CEO of True Equality Network, and a member of the Steering and Legislative Committees for the Maryland based think-tank, RADAR — Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting.



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| Chapter 6 — Shelters For Battered Women |

| Next — Blind woman encounters discrimination in Bellingham, Washington, shelter |

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Added October 9, 2006

Last modified 5/16/18