© 2008 Carey Roberts,
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July 13, 2008 Head of women's shelter in Naples, Florida, turns to violence and abuse
July 15, 2008 No place for blind woman at Womencare
July 22, 2008 Moms, don't take your kids to an abuse shelter
July 28, 2008 Another Way shelter headed for a meltdown?
August 3, 2008 At abuse shelters, girls just wanna have fun!
August 10, 2008 Who killed Millie Almore at the SafeSpace shelter?
August 17, 1008 No room for men at the abuse shelter, but Fido can tag along
August 24, 2008 How abuse shelters teach women to game the system
September 9, 2008 Women avoid abuse shelters like the plague
September 15, 2008 Good ol' girls network passes on shelter probe
October 2, 2008 Few women in abuse shelters are true victims of violence
October 9, 2008 Another Way shelter, where the inmates are running the asylum
November 17, 2008 Shield Foundation shelter shakedown
November 22, 2008 Domestic violence industry: Racist
January 28, 2009 Another Florida abuse shelter scandal
July 13, 2008 The domestic violence industry operates under the cloak of secrecy and anonymity, maintaining such policies are necessary to shield victims from their abusers. But every now and then a crack appears in the façade, revealing a sordid panorama of corruption, fraud, and abuse.
On February 28, 2007 the Naples, Florida, citizenry opened their morning newspapers to the jolting headline, "CEO Out at Women's Shelter: Investigation into Battery Complaint Prompts Departure." Over the next several months, details would spill out of a woman's rights activist who had evolved into a self-serving "tyrant," as one of her colleagues later described her.
The charges surrounded Kathy Herrmann Catino, a former victim of domestic violence and director of the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children.
Fifteen years ago Ms. Catino took over the helm of the debt-ridden shelter. She worked tirelessly and proved to be a skilled rainmaker, growing the shelter into a 60-bed facility with a $3.5 million budget, 52 staff members, and 276 volunteers.
But her crusade took on messianic overtones. Believing she was the savior of women, Catino set out to control the Board of Directors and even the personal lives of her employees.
"Kathy Herrmann-Catino ruled as the queen of the fortress she built for too long," revealed one woman, adding she "was obsessed with the need to control her subordinates and others in the community, and her obsession grew as the Shelter grew."
"As long as you did as you were told by her, it was all good. Don't do as you're told or have a mind of your own, and there were problems," explained another associate, adding that the shelter director "hates men."
One saw her as a Captain Queeg in a pantsuit: "You could see the self-satisfaction in her big round eyes and the little smile on her lips whenever she broke a spirit and made an employee cry."
"I've witnessed and been a victim of her abusive style," revealed a former board member. "She openly admits her son is an abuser. Now we know where he learned it."
Catino went so far as to monitor employees' after-hours pursuits. Paul Vincent Zecchino revealed, "she would check on your home life and [find out] if you did not live your life outside of work as she thought you should."
And as if that wasn't enough, "Your condition of employment then required you to go to counseling and report that you went," the man wrote. "The counselor you went to was one that she would pick for you."
Election Day, 2006 marked the beginning of the end. Believing that advancing social change was part of the shelter's mission, she sent an email to her staff instructing them to inform her whether they had voted.
But a few scofflaws did not respond. So the next day an infuriated Catino broadcast this warning: "OK you are the folks who have not responded to my several requests for information regarding whether or not you voted on Tuesday. This is your CEO talking the one who approves your pay check...Testing 1, 2, 3, anyone out there? Please respond."
The message was clear: If you don't come clean with the Commissar of Truth, your paycheck might be delayed, or worse.
Problem was, Florida law prohibits voter intimidation. For that misstep, Catino was arrested, booked, and released on bond.
Three months later Catino decided one of the shelter employees had crossed her one too many times. She wanted an underling to do the dirty work, but the employee refused to go along with the gig. When the tearful woman tried to walk out of the shelter, Catino grabbed her by the arm and yanked her around.
Legally this counts as assault. The security cameras captured the entire incident. Two weeks later, Kathy Catino was history.
The most insightful commentary came from a former associate who revealed, "In reality, Kathy's very sad life was never healed it was only a mask she wore a role she played. She was angry and unhealed, which is why she loved wallowing in her abuse."
Pay a visit to the website of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for the legalization of homosexual marriage in the state of Virginia. Cathy Catino is now the deputy director of the organization.
The website proudly states Catino "served as CEO of a FL shelter program for nearly fourteen years...While in Naples, Kathy started an outreach program for LBGT people who were victims of partner violence and routinely sheltered gay, lesbian, and transgender people in her program."
July 15, 2008 All Desiree Carpenter wanted was a chance to succeed. As a young woman Ms. Carpenter (not her real name) had been subjected to repeated physical and sexual assaults, losing her eyesight during one attack. Her assailant did hard time, but now he was back on the streets and vowing to track her down.
Her only hope was to flee to another state, assume a new identity, and start over. Washington was the best place to begin anew, since the state had passed tough anti-stalking laws. So she packed her bags and hopped on the train with her two children in tow, bound for Bellingham, a couple hours north of Seattle.
Being blind, she had come into a laptop computer with a screen reader that converts text to the spoken word. That's how Desiree and I exchanged information for this article.
Arriving at the Bellingham train station, she expectantly called the Womencare Shelter, a group that bills itself as a "feminist organization working to end violence against women:"
Desiree was told to go to the local McDonald's to be interviewed by an intake worker. There she was scrutinized to make sure "I was acceptable," as Desiree later recounted. The staffer told Ms. Carpenter to detail her rape experiences while her children sat quietly and listened.
Admitted to the shelter, the staff removed her daughter's electronic homeschooling program, saying African-Americans spend too much time with rap videos. Desiree's television was padlocked and she was informed she could only watch TV on weekends.
Like all residents, Desiree was assigned housekeeping chores. It's not that the tasks were menial, but asking a blind woman to clean toilets and sort broken glass seems a little cold-hearted. When the new resident questioned her duties, the staff urged her to become more "empowered."
The staff forbade the woman from making safety accommodations on the shelter's flat-top stove. So Desiree and her young children ate micro-waved meals and peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of their stay.
When residents wanted to re-enter the facility, they typed in a security code. Desiree asked to have the keypad marked with Braille dots, leading her to be ridiculed as being disruptive and manipulative.
At one point a resident confided to her, "The staff here acts worse than an abuser."
The shelter did help Desiree to secure the all-important name change. Of course that entailed losing all her educational credentials, job references, credit cards, and so forth. That was the sacrifice she knew she would have to make.
Over the next two weeks things went from bad to worse, especially after Ms. Carpenter complained about the videotape that lectured residents why organized religion was "oppressive" to women.
In desperation, Desiree contacted the Bellingham Adult Protective Services, pleading they dispatch a disability aide so she could cook her own meals.
But the Womencare director ordered "Nyet," claiming that would compromise the shelter's secret location. Then the shelter staff began to suspect she was planning to file a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Council of course that was forbidden by shelter rules.
So that evening the director barged into Desiree's room and issued an ultimatum: "Either you drop your civil rights complaint or you're out of here!"
When Desiree tearfully said she had only requested someone to assist with the necessities of life, the staff interpreted her claim of innocence to be further proof of guilt. That was reason enough to summon the police.
Within minutes a female officer dashed into the shelter, gun drawn, pulled the startled children out of bed, and ordered them out. The officer explained that even though Desiree had not violated any rules, the shelter was "exiting" her because she was unhappy with their services.
Then came the crushing blow the shelter director blurted out Desiree Carpenter's previous name. The officer hastily entered both names, linked by a single report, into the National Crime Information Center database.
In that moment, all the labors of the past month were undone, all her hopes of a life free of fear were dashed!
The staff then ransacked Desiree's room, stuffing her possessions, food, and legal documents into a black trash bag. Mother, son, and daughter were sent packing into the rainy night.
During her one-month nightmare at Womencare, Ms. Carpenter suffered too many indignities to recount in a single column more details can be seen here.
In the end, Desiree's daughter said she would rather die than ever again trust an abuse shelter.
July 22, 2008 Abuse shelters are the domestic violence industry's Holy of Holies. Their ministrations are shrouded in mystery, the High Priestesses unnamed, their locations often kept secret. There abused women can become purified of the patriarchal demon and begin life anew.
Of course if you're an abused man, don't bother to ask for help. They're likely to claim you are harassing them and call the police. And abuse shelters don't seem to be very interested in helping the youngsters, either.
Although abuse shelters claim to serve the children of abused women, what passes for child care may be a gum-chewing, tattoo-adorned teenager clocking her community service hours. Or a former drug-user working off her parole plea-bargain.
Several years ago Renee Heikamp was arrested and charged with criminal negligence following the death of her son Jordan. The five-week-old baby wasted away to skin and bones as the two resided at the Catholic Children's Aid Society in Toronto.
At the Brewster, Arizona, Center Domestic Violence Services, a 26-year-old resident had sex with a 12-year-old boy in the playground tunnel slide while his mother was away. The predator was hauled off to the Pima County jail and charged with sexual misconduct with a minor.
Shelter residents often complain their children are exposed to far more abuse in the shelter than they had seen outside of it. There they witness taunting, profanity-laden threats, and even physical assaults.
Sometimes children find themselves the target of such abuse. One former resident wrote, "Children, especially teens, become the emotional 'whipping boys' of other residents, and if they speak up, they risk getting the family thrown out."
At one shelter a resident was arrested for a bizarre birthday present for a 13-year-old boy at the facility. The women cornered the boy and proceeded to spank him 13 times with her clenched fist.
Most shameful of all most abuse shelters refuse to help adolescent children who are...male. After all, we can't let those proto-patriarchs find out what really goes on behind closed doors.
Erin Pizzey, founder of the first shelter, believes her movement has been hijacked. She charges abuse shelters now "fund the feminist movements so they exclude young boys because they are the potential enemy."
Last October 16-month-old Myliak Dale was playing in the parking lot of the SafeSpace shelter in Stuart, Florida, when a woman started to back her car out. Apparently no one was watching. The toddler's life was snuffed out in minutes.
Then 10 days later, 26-year-old Milaus Almore was fatally stabbed by another SafeSpace resident, Marilyn Hooks. Almore was eight weeks pregnant.
On May 6, 2007, a Suwannee County sheriff spotted a cluster of teenagers behind a minivan drinking alcohol. The van was registered in the name of the Another Way shelter in Lake City. One of the minors was a pregnant teenager residing at the facility. As we know, drinking during pregnancy is harmful to an unborn infant.
The driver's eyes were severely bloodshot. She was given a sobriety test and failed. The police cited 34-year-old Wendy Pittman for giving alcohol to minors. Turns out, Ms. Pittman was the director of the Another Way shelter.
Pittman was given the boot and replaced by Shanna Travis. Ms. Travis is a nurse who repeatedly tested positive for opiates, failed her rehab, and whose license has been revoked by the Florida Board of Nursing.
On June 5, 2008, a four-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a nine-year-old female at the shelter while the two were left unattended. According to the police report, the nine-year-old "took down her underwear and pants down and inserted her finger into her vagina."
The incident took place around 9:30 on Saturday evening. But the assault wasn't reported to the police until noon the following day.
So why were the two girls left together unattended? Why the 15-hour delay in reporting the incident? And who had the nutty idea of hiring a former druggie to run an abuse shelter?
To get answers to these questions, last week I telephoned Tiffany Carr, director of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at 1-850-425-2749. Despite repeated attempts, Ms. Carr never returned my call.
July 28, 2008 Last week my column revealed the all-too-common mistreatment of children in abuse shelters around the country. The article highlighted two incidents involving a Florida shelter, a former director who was cited for contributing to the delinquency of minors, and the sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl.
Following publication of that essay, several former employees of Another Way came forward to tell me there was much, much more to the story. What follows is an account of three Queen Bees, a demoralized and depleted staff, and a shelter in disarray. The sordid tale calls to mind the old saying, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Another Way, located in the northern Florida town of Lake City, has a gleaming facility with 35 beds and is headed by a director paid the tidy sum of $95,000. The staff consists of 30 persons and up to 20 volunteers. Over the last 2 years, the shelter has been plagued by an epidemic of staff "resignations" 150 employees, more or less.
The former staffers shared with me eye-witness accounts of prison camp-like working conditions, misappropriated shelter assets, falsified documents, sex discrimination, illicit drug activities, horrific child abuse, illegal cover-ups, complacent oversight agencies, and more.
The shell-shocked women told me many of their former co-workers are unqualified, untrained, and even underage. Some employees are required to work overtime without pay. Many are subjected to random tongue-lashings and at-will terminations.
A few felt set up for failure. One staffer, ordered to pull together extensive tax records on short notice, recounted her ordeal: "Toward the end of my deadline, I felt like I was going to have a mental break down...There [are] no words that can express the mental anguish that I was made to feel throughout the day."
There were widespread reports of management using the shelter van and other resources for personal use. Staff training records were known to be falsified. When state auditors came to town, the managers would pull all-nighters to make sure the records were brought up to snuff.
The Queen Bees went out of their way to avoid helping abused men. One employee revealed, "I was personally instructed to do everything possible to discourage males to report abuse."
Oddly, fewer than 15% of residents came to the facility with any physical injuries. Some of the residents had been charged with beating up their boyfriends and thrown in the clink. So shelter staff worked their feminine charms to procure their release and hide the law-breakers from their probation officers.
Druggies openly plied their habit. "I, on numerous occasions reported illegal drug use that I had witnessed take place on Shelter property and often my complaints were ignored," a former employee revealed. "We always knew not to call the law unless you were prepared to be unemployed."
One appalled woman described the shelter's cover-up this way: "We're here to empower women, not teach them how to lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate the system."
Most troubling were the recurring incidents of child neglect and abuse all swept under the rug. These are just three examples:
Returning to the 4-year-old who was sexually assaulted by the 9-year-old girl, it turned out her perpetrator had been involved in inappropriate sex acts with another child at the shelter just two months before. That was never reported to the authorities.
A one-month-old was left unattended in a baby swing. Despite the infant sobbing all day, a shelter manager upbraided the concerned employee with the rebuke, "We don't tell these women how to parent their children."
An 8-year-old boy became angry and started to cry. Someone stuck him in a closed van in the middle of summer. Advised of this barbaric punishment, the manager ordered the boy left in the vehicle until he "decided to stop throwing a fit."
Some incidents were reported to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. But the group never saw reason to take action. Maybe that's because the FCADV director, Tiffany Carr, is known to be buddy-buddy with the Another Way head.
After they were expelled like a worn-out pack mule, many former workers experienced post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some required psychiatric treatment.
One ex-worker revealed to me, "They took advantage of their knowledge of my history of being an abuse victim and my desperate circumstances to intimidate me into accepting the abuse that they heaped on me."
Comparing her employer to a perp, another woman reflected, "I later realized that like a battered woman my loyalties were still to my abuser."
August 3, 2008 Hey girls, want to get skanky? Well, sashay down to your local abuse shelter and get buzzed! No, you don't have to be a real victim of domestic violence. All you need is a convincing story.
Last year Hollie Cephas of Monticello, Arkansas, arrived on the doorstep of the Options shelter to recount her tale of woe: Her husband had beaten her to the point of having two miscarriages, he hid her insulin, and once he even called her a "fat pig."
The intake worker at Options had been taught to "always believe the victim," so of course she was beside herself. One employee was so moved that she loaned Mrs. Cephas $25,000 and let her use her credit card. That covered liquor purchases, a few shopping sprees at the local Wal-Mart, burial expenses for her child, and more.
Then with a dramatic flourish, Cephas phoned the shelter to let them know she'd just had a kidney transplant and the life support was about to be turned off. She died a few days later.
On February 11, 2008, police went to her home, where she was still very much alive, calmly residing with her allegedly battering husband. Cephas was hauled down to the Drew County Detention Center, where she was charged with theft by deception and a $250,000 bond placed on her head.
Here's the moral of the story: If you're going to accuse your husband of trying to knock you off, don't use a borrowed credit card after your own funeral.
First of all, realize you're entitled to three nutritious meals a day, personal toiletries, and so forth. Transportation services may also be available, "but the only excursions offered were to the local mall where a wealth of unaffordable merchandise stared them in the face," explains Nancy S., who spent two years shuttling among shelters in the San Francisco area.
Don't let your kids stop you from having the fun you deserve all shelters offer free day care, sometimes courtesy of a local teenager who's working off her parole time. She'll have some interesting stories to regale the youngsters!
And don't worry if your kids are still black and blue from their latest visit to the wood shed shelters won't turn you in for child abuse, at least if you're staying at Another Way in Lake City, Florida. As one former employee told me, "We always knew not to call the law unless you were prepared to be unemployed."
And if you want to toke a little weed, that's fine, too. After all, you've been battered and belittled, you deserve a little break.
If you're in the Houston area, be sure to go by the Bay Area Turning Point. That facility hosts dating parties where local men drop by to schmooze and relax. That's according to Bobbi Sue Bacha, vice president of Blue Moon Investigations, who wonders whether such events are appropriate for abused women at such a vulnerable point in their lives.
And don't fret about that nine o'clock curfew. If you want to go behind the bushes with your new heart-throb or hang out with your old boyfriend the one you said is your lifelong abuser no problem, they'll reset the security alarm for you.
If lavender is your color of choice, you don't even need to venture outside. Everyone knows shelter staffs are replete with dykes cruising for a hook-up.
At Bethany House in Falls Church, Virginia, "Women with almost no marital problems are declared abused and are coached by the staff to go to court and get a protective order against their husbands with the promise of long-term shelter, legal services, [and] counseling," reveals a former shelter volunteer.
And don't worry that your naughty antics might land you in the clink. The good ladies from the abuse shelter will bail you out. After all, you've obviously been suffering from Battered Woman's Syndrome.
Once you check out of the shelter, you now have the gold-plated Keys to the Kingdom. That's because you can now lay claim to life-long status as a victim, a battered woman. You're a certified survivor.
Want to skirt the return-to-work requirements under TANF? No hassle. Need to re-up your Section 8 housing? You're covered. Are you an illegal immigrant? Bienvenidos, amiga!
There's just one little hitch. Legions of other women have figured out how to work the system, so many shelters now have a long waiting list.
August 10, 2008 On October 21, 2007 Milaus Almore, eight weeks pregnant, sought refuge at the SafeSpace abuse shelter. Ten days later the 26-year-old woman lay dead, stabbed with a pocket knife that left a gaping wound in the side of her neck. The weapon was wielded not by her abuser, but by another woman staying at the Stuart, Florida, facility.
The victim's grieving mother blurted out the obvious irony of her death: "She went in there to be safe, and she got killed."
Employees at SafeSpace were, of course, surprised and shocked. But it turns out the alleged perpetrator, Marilyn Hooks, had a prior criminal record but none of the staff had bothered to check. That's because, according to Board president Anthony Westbury, "you don't put up any more barriers for victims wanting to enter the shelter."
Violence at abuse shelters occurs far more often than most persons realize. Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, admits fisticuffs among shelter residents are commonplace, according to a November 9, 2007 article in the TCPalm. At SafeSpace, about 10 incidents occur each year that require police intervention, many of them involving assaults by shelter residents.
These problems were no secret to local residents who often overheard angry outbursts between mothers and their children. Following Almore's stabbing death, the neighborhood was up in arms. "It's not safe for anybody. Even the people who are using it deserve better," according to Jim Brady, who resides on the quiet cul-de-sac where the shelter is located.
Within hours the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence dispatched a team to investigate. Its findings dealt a second blow to local residents still grieving over the death of one-year-old Myliak Dale, run over by a car in the SafeSpace parking lot just days before.
Upon her admission to the shelter on September 22, Marilyn Hooks did not "appear" to have any mental health issues whatever that means.
But within days, Hooks became embroiled in a series of conflicts and verbal altercations with other shelter residents and staff. Soon these disagreements escalated into outright threats.
On October 17, Hooks threatened to kill shelter employee Paola Jimenez. Two weeks later Hooks told a co-resident she was going to eliminate her not Ms. Almore, but a different woman.
These incidents were reported to shelter manager Kathleen Comstock, along with urgent recommendations that Hooks be "exited" from the facility. But Comstock refused the appeals, reportedly "rolled her eyes" and telling one employee she was "tired of it all and didn't want to hear about it."
In violation of shelter policy, Hooks' case files contained no mention of the death threats maybe because the staff believed it was of no use, or perhaps they were so instructed.
Nor were these incidents reported to executive director Hylan Bryan, a woman who was paid nearly $69,000 a year to oversee shelter operations.
At the conclusion of its two-day visit, the Coalition team issued a scathing indictment. The untimely death of Milaus Almore was caused by the "egregious failure of the entire agency to satisfactorily assure the health, safety, and welfare of both its clientele and staff."
The FCADV opted to not post the damning report on its website, but it can be read here.
In response, SafeSpace developed a series of corrective measures. These included get ready for this drawing up an organizational chart, updating job descriptions, and reviewing managers' competencies "to make sure they're competent to be doing the job they're doing."
Bear in mind, this is a $3 million taxpayer-funded agency that presumes to be expert at stopping partner abuse.
Turns out, SafeSpace had a history of dubious practices. In 2002 the shelter was cited for not providing requested records to state auditors. The probe also found shelter staff were breaking the rules by admitting women who were not true victims of abuse.
Ironically, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence had conducted an inspection just two weeks before Almore's death, concluding SafeSpace passed with flying colors.
So ten months after the incident, key questions remain unanswered:
Was Marilyn Hooks the sole perpetrator of the deed? Or were there accessories to this heinous crime?
Was the autocratic shelter manager at fault for turning her back on staff entreaties to discharge Hooks?
Did the executive director fall down by failing to assure the incidents were reported to her?
Was the SafeSpace Board of Directors asleep at the switch for not assuring effective management controls were in place?
August 17, 2008 Some persons find it incomprehensible that a woman would maim or murder her husband or boyfriend.
That thought may have crossed the minds of the persons who watched in horror as Debi Olson repeatedly stabbed her ex-husband, Mauricio Droguett at a Des Moines, Iowa shopping mall. Olson was charged with first-degree murder for the July 3, 2008 attack. "It's a classic case of rage, of hate for someone it's very personal," explained Capt. David Struckman. "She definitely stalked this man."
Two weeks later, Cynthia McKay, 52, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the gruesome murder and burning of her boyfriend Anthony Fertitta of Millersville, Maryland. One prosecutor described McKay as "the most devious defendant this court will come across."
And on August 1, Tomasz Matczak of Issaquah, Washington, died of a single stab wound to his chest. The assailant, his 19-year-old girlfriend, openly admitted to the deed.
In all of these cases, early intervention might have averted the tragedy. But where were these men supposed to turn?
All around the country abuse shelters have been established to help persons battered by partner violence. But with a handful of exceptions, these shelters maintain a strict "Men Not Welcome" policy.
Some openly advertise their gender-exclusion policy. Guys, if you live in the Chicago area, here are your options: Women's Counseling Center, Sarah's Inn, Latin Women in Action, or the YWCA.
And if Hillary ever lays cougar-tracks on your face again, Bill, you can turn to My Sister's Place or the Westchester County Office for Women. I'm sure they'd be happy to help.
Other shelters are more discriminating in their manner of discrimination. They wait until a man in dire straights actually arrives on the premises.
A former employee of the Another Way shelter in Lake City, Florida, shared this account:
"Around November or December 2007, a man came into the office. He was crying, and his arms were bruised, seeking assistance," the woman revealed. The intake worker "took him into her office. Then to my amazement I heard her tell him that Another Way doesn't provide services or assistance for men...My heart went out to this man because it was evident that he was truly a victim of domestic violence."
The appalled woman wrote, "This is discrimination and violating men's rights. There are men with children that are being victimized. It takes courage for men to come forward and admit they are victims. Then when they do, we revictimize them all over again."
Some shelters insist they provide equivalent services to men, like giving them a voucher at a local hotel. What have these people been smoking do they really believe a hotel stay would have protected Mauricio Droguett, Anthony Fertitta, and Tomasz Matczak from their vindictive assailants?
But the most common reason is simple: battered men don't make the cut. As the head of Rainbow Services in southern California once explained, "We have limited resources and it's all we can do to try and keep up with the demand for services for women and children."
That's a hoot! Here's the dirty little secret of the multi-million dollar shelter industry: the great majority of women in so-called "abuse" shelters have never been battered or suffered physical harm at the hands of their abuser.
A woman who volunteered at the YWCA Crisis Center in Enid, Oklahoma, for three years revealed, "In all of that time, there was one woman admitted who I was sure had been severely physically abused. The rest of the women and kids who came and went were playing the system to the hilt!"
That's right, most shelter residents have perfected the art of bamboozling the system, knowing that being certified as a battered woman entitles you to oodles of government hand-outs!
Some of these same shelters that turn away battered men are now telling their "abused" women, "And remember to bring Fido!"
That's right, the American Humane Society has recently launched its "PAWS" program Pets and Women's Shelters, get it?
So gals, if you need a place to dry out and want to take along your pooch, go to the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area. The dedicated C.A.R.E. staff has established a "foster pet parenting program" just for you!
Or head over to Quigley House in Orange Park they have a kennel right on shelter grounds. Its canine center features a dog bathing area, benches to accommodate family visits, and of course a waste containment station.
So men, if Quigley House can't help you with your rolling pin-wielding wife, rest assured that at least Rover will be well-fed and well-bathed.
August 24, 2008 Mary Runge of Palm Bay, Florida, found herself without a job and her savings depleted. So last month the single mom went knocking on the doors of local charities for help. The 47-year-old mother of three was urged to tell the girl at the local abuse hotline: "tell them we have been abused, and we will receive all we need."
But Runge had never been a victim of abuse.
It used to be that in order to get into an abuse shelter, you had to have visible signs of harm even if the injuries were fake. Columnist Denise Noe recounts her experience with a couple who had been evicted from their apartment. The wife reasoned, "My husband could black my eye so me and the kid could go to a battered woman's shelter."
But nowadays, abuse shelters dispense with the formalities any good sob story will do. You see, intake workers are told to "always believe the victim."
Anthony Westbury, president of SafeSpace in Stuart, Florida, explains his shelter's open-door policy this way: "you don't put up any more barriers for victims wanting to enter the shelter." In Enid, Oklahoma, the YWCA Emergency Shelter actually advertises on its website, "we do NOT require proof of abuse."
"In all the time that I volunteered there, I saw one woman who showed signs of physical abuse," a former shelter worker revealed. The residents "were just gaming the system....All they had to do was make up some tale about some man abusing them no proof needed and they could stay up to 2 months at the shelter."
The basic shelter package includes free room, board, and baby-sitting. And chauffeur-driven transport in the shelter van. Some shelters offer free pet care. In Naples, Florida, the Shelter for Abused Women and Children features a beauty salon where residents "can be pampered in a safe and convenient location."
Taxpayer-funded legal help is also available for just about any problem. If you need to get rid of a pesky husband, Bethany House in Falls Church, Virginia, can help. A former shelter volunteer describes the shelter as a "free hostel for women with emotional problems if they are willing to hate their husbands enough and are willing to take out protective orders against their husbands."
Daily shelter routines can be described as loosey-goosey. The women come and go as they please. Asked what the Buffalo Women Calf Society does to help women become self-sufficient, Melinda Zephier, a staffer at the South Dakota shelter, answered limply, "We don't push them."
Romantic liaisons thrive. One former shelter director revealed, "After hours, some of these women would sneak men into their rooms the same men who had supposedly abused them." Other women take up with their female co-residents.
At Another Way in Lake City, Florida, you can toke a little weed and not worry about the consequences. "I, on numerous occasions reported illegal drug use that I had witnessed take place on Shelter property and often my complaints were ignored," a former employee revealed.
Once the "abused" woman is released from the shelter, she moves to the front of the line for welfare benefits, HUD housing programs, and almost everything else. If she is an illegal immigrant, a work permit is almost a sure bet.
Because once word gets out that reaching the status of an "abused woman" is a free ticket to Easy Street, everyone wants to get a piece of the action. That means many must be turned away, including those women and men who are true victims of abuse.
All this comes as good news to the domestic violence industry. That's because telling potential donors and lawmakers about all the women and children who were refused help is one of the best cough-up-your-money arguments they have.
For example, the National Network to End Domestic Violence claims in its recent Domestic Violence Counts report that nationwide there were "2,923 unmet requests for emergency shelter." And the Colorado Domestic Abuse Assistance Program reports, "In 2006, 5,886 individuals were turned away from shelters in Colorado due to a lack of capacity."
Fortunately, there are still a few good women left, ladies who refuse to sell their souls to a free-wheeling shelter system. Mary Runge is one such woman.
"I do not want to live on this twisted, sick system. I don't want them in my life...I don't want to play the game and lie. I only need help," Runge plaintively told me.
"All women are not feminist," she announces proudly.
September 9, 2008 Christina Wilson was caught in an abusive relationship, so last November she took refuge at the Cherokee Family Violence Center in Canton, Georgia, She hoped the 12-bed shelter would help her mend the wounds and get her back on her feet.
Pregnant with child, she was assigned to a room with another woman who seldom bathed. And the room itself smelled. When the shelter wouldn't move her to another room, Wilson filed a complaint.
In retaliation, Wilson found herself "exited" from the shelter, leaving her homeless. Then she had her baby. The little boy had acid reflux, which made swallowing milk difficult.
The shelter notified the Florida child abuse unit to be on the look-out for a homeless mother with an infant. So when the child abuse inspectors discovered the child was underweight, they scooped up the child, not to be returned to his mother's arms for five excruciating months.
Wilson sums up her experience with the Cherokee abuse shelter in one word: a "hardship."
No doubt some women have been helped by their stays at a shelter. But far too often, women experience more mistreatment in the shelter than at the hands of their abusers.
Reports of verbal abuse and assaults are not unusual. At the First Step shelter in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a resident was attacked by a drug-addled woman, demanding she hand over her phone card or else she would slit her throat.
In a surprising number of cases, shelters turn away the persons who need help the most.
St. Jude House in Crown Point, Indiana, refused to admit an 18-year-old woman who was being tortured by her parents with electrical cables. And Joy Taylor recounts the story of a rape victim who was refused admission to a Washington state shelter because she didn't fall within its poverty guidelines.
"Shelters have denied housing to African American women for not sounding fearful enough or sounding too strong," reveals Tricia Bent-Goodley in her article, Perceptions of Domestic Violence: A Dialogue with African American Women.
Once inside, these women discover the shelter services are either unhelpful or non-existent.
Peggy Grauwiler of New York University interviewed 10 abused women, whose experiences are summarized in her article, Voices of Women. None of the ladies reported positive interactions with local shelters. One woman described the shelter this way: "It's a mess, it's a crowd...I was supposed to isolate everybody I knew, everything I knew."
Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling's research found that one-quarter of women in an abuse shelter were engaged in stalking their partners. But shelters don't provide counseling for women to overcome their penchant for abuse. That would run counter to the prevailing philosophy that the woman bears no responsibility for her actions.
Once these women leave the shelter they often eschew further contact. Angela Kalani, supervisor at the West Hawaii Shelter program, admits, "Many women who exit the shelter choose not to follow up with shelter staff. This seems to be the norm for many years."
First, shelter staff are poorly trained. The Florida Institute for Family Violence Studies reviewed reports from 13 states and found one of the most consistent problems is the need for "more well-trained and well-paid domestic violence center staff."
Second, many shelters have steeped themselves in a radical feminist ideology.
Researcher Sara Epstein reported on her survey of 111 shelters in the American Journal of Community Psychology. When asked to identify their main goal, 45% stated they endorsed the feminist mission "To help change societal patterns of violence against women." Only 25% said they were "devoted to the treatment and support of battered women."
For example, the Marin (California) Abused Women's Services (M.A.W.S.) advertises its mission is to "end the violence, abuse, oppression, and intimidation of women" but doesn't say a word about providing drug treatment, counseling, or anger management classes.
This means you're more likely to hear a neo-Marxist rant about the evils of patriarchy than get anything that resembles practical help for your problem.
Once word gets out that abuse shelters are an ideological cesspool, the women and men who truly need help stop coming.
But an empty shelter is a fund-raiser's nightmare. After all, if we're claiming to halt the epidemic of domestic violence, we need to show off a few warm bodies every now and then.
So the shelters have become filled with women who are druggies, homeless waifs, or are trying to escape a criminal record. That's why abused persons who really need help avoid shelters like the plague.
September 15, 2008 Subsidized by millions in taxpayer largesse, domestic violence coalitions operate in every state in the Union. While most groups have annual budgets in the $1-3 million range, some run much higher. For example the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, with its $26 million budget, seldom feels the need to recycle paper clips.
Who are these coalitions accountable to? In almost every case, they answer to a hand-picked Board of Directors that is composed of the same persons who feather their own nests by making the decisions about who gets the coalition's grants.
Take the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. Its Board members include representatives from the Family Crisis Center, City Life, ROSE Advocates, Bingham Crisis Center, Family Services Alliance, YWCA of Lewiston-Clarkston, and Valley Crisis Center.
These are same groups that receive much of their funding from the Idaho Coalition.
Let's look at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence that farms out $20 million each year to abuse shelters and other groups around the state.
Now consider the 16 members of the Coalition's Board of Directors. Fifteen of these women (yes, this is a girls-only club) represent a shelter that receives a large share of its funding from the FCADV. The sixteenth woman is the Lesbian and Bisexual Womyn's Representative (spelling "women " with a 'y' is how they get the "men" out of "women" get it?).
Maybe this arrangement is not exactly according to Hoyle, but what's the harm?
Let's take the example of Another Way, a FCADV-funded shelter in Lake City, Florida.
In previous columns I have documented numerous examples of misconduct and malfeasance at this 35-bed facility: document falsification, misappropriation of the organization's assets, personal use of the shelter van, sex discrimination, staff harassment, and an epidemic of staff firings.
Last May, half the Board resigned in protest.
These lax management practices have given rise to multiple incidents of drug use and child mistreatment, like a crying 8-year-old boy who was packed into a closed van in the middle of summer until he stopped "throwing a fit." These illegal activities often go unreported to local authorities.
On May 7, 2007, Another Way manager Wendy Pittman was spotted by police drinking alcohol with a group of teenagers. Pittman was let go. She was replaced by Shanna Travis, whose license had been previously revoked by the Florida Board of Nursing for opiate use.
Then on June 5, 2008, a four-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a nine-year-old female at the shelter. But the incident wasn't reported to the police until 15 hours later, in direct violation of shelter policy.
The staff member on duty at the time was Gloria Taylor. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Taylor has spent 32 months in prison on convictions of fraud, grand theft, and written threats to kill or injure. (Go to Florida's Supervised Population Information Search then enter Taylor's DC number: 285003.)
According to her rap sheet, Taylor goes by a number of aliases, including Donna Bell, Gloria Jean Bell, Patricia S. Rawls, Gloria Holmes, and Regina Denise Williams. This same woman is now working at an abuse shelter, supervising children and presumably serving as a role model to help women break the cycle of violence.
Brenda Collins (Florida DC 543466) was convicted on two counts of cocaine possession in 1998, and later spent nine months in jail for aggravated assault with a weapon. She's on probation until 2009. This past December Another Way named Collins the Employee of the Year. But then she got on the wrong side of management and the former Employee of the Year was summarily let go.
Given all this, why hasn't the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence launched a probe and published its findings? And why does this rogue operation continue to accept residents to this day?
The director of Another Way is Donna Fagan. Turns out, Fagan is also a member of the Executive Committee of the FCADV Board of Directors actually, she's the chairperson of that committee. Angie Osterhoudt, another manager at Another Way, also sits on the FCADV Board.
Remember what your mother always taught you: Girls always stick together.
So to all the women and children who were harassed and ill-treated at Another Way, and to all the abused men who were turned away, forget about that investigation. It's not going to happen. The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence won't hear a word of it.
October 2, 2008 Lachrymose tales of battered women abound when representatives of abuse shelters come calling, hat in hand, for taxpayer money. But what is the truth of the matter are abuse shelters really brimming with hapless victims trying to break free of the cycle of violence?
The answer to that question is a surprising "No." In the great majority of cases, women at abuse shelters have suffered no physical injury or harm.
A former worker at the YWCA Emergency Shelter in Enid, Oklahoma, reveals, "In all the time that I volunteered there, I saw one woman who showed signs of physical abuse." Likewise, the former director of a mid-Atlantic shelter reports, "only about one in 10 women had experienced any kind of physical injury."
Recently, researchers at Florida State University interviewed persons residing at abuse shelters in the state. "Medical/health" needs were mentioned only 9% of the time, and these were mostly women who needed to catch up on overdue dental and medical checks.
And the Hawaii Department of Human Services reports only 8% of persons at shelters require emergency medical attention and emergency care can include non-abuse related problems like getting an abscessed tooth removed.
Somehow these reports don't mesh with the abuse industry's well-cultivated image of legions of bruised, beaten, and bloodied souls tending to their wounds.
And for those women who were physically harmed, many turn out to be just as abusive as the partners they are trying to escape from, according to Erin Pizzey, founder of the first abuse shelter in the world. Those findings are echoed by recent research.
In New Mexico, Satya Krishnan interviewed women residing at La Casa shelter in Las Cruces. The ladies turned out to be a feisty bunch 29% admitted to having trouble controlling their violent behavior and 17% had been in jail in the past year.
And writing in the October 2006 issue of Violence and Victims, Dr. Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling reported that one-quarter of women at an Alabama shelter were currently stalking their partners.
So if the women in these shelters are seldom there to salve their injuries, what are they doing there?
A resident at the First Step shelter in Harrisonburg, Virginia, revealed, "I soon discovered that I was the only woman there for protection purposes. Most of the other women were using the shelter as a halfway house. The other women had been kicked out by their spouses for drug use, and had no where else to go."
Among women who come to Hawaii abuse shelters, one in four are known to have substance abuse problems. At the New Mexico shelter, many women admitted to overindulging in alcohol 14% had injured themselves or others as a result of drinking, and 85% were using alcohol during the abuse incident. And 39% of the women had engaged in illegal activities to get drugs during the previous year.
In Florida, housing was the number one need cited by shelter residents. In Hawaii, the Honolulu and Leeward Oahu shelters experienced a 40% decline in the number of residents last year. Why? Because three homeless shelters had opened their doors, almost halving the need for abuse services.
In San Diego, the local Child Protective Services office had open files on 38% of women in shelters, according to a 2003 survey by Susan Pennell and Cynthia Burke. In Hawaii, one in six women has a case with the local CPS.
And then there are those who check in to abuse shelters for assorted other reasons: they are buddy-buddy with the shelter director, they want free legal help for their divorce, or they want to pad their abuse resumé.
Or maybe they just want to snag a little R and R like the Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, Florida, where women come to be "pampered in a safe and convenient location."
A visitor to one shelter revealed, I was "shocked to see YOUNG women using the shelters like a babysitter, leaving small kids in top bunks and going out dancing and partying for the weekend...The shelter was full of UNOPENED toys, bikes, and expensive furniture donations."
So drop by to your local shelter and who are you likely to see? Among every 10 ladies, at most one has any physical injuries. Two or three are violent in their own right, some fleeing from a criminal record. Three to four women have a problem with alcohol or drug abuse. A few have histories of child abuse.
October 9, 2008 If a friend of yours was in desperate straights and had to seek refuge in an abuse shelter, wouldn't you want that person to be able to go to a place with staff who are qualified, compassionate, and have a clean record? Then you'll be shocked to learn what's going on at Another Way in Lake City, Fla.
I have reported previously on this star-crossed shelter. But it turns out, the situation is worse than I originally thought. Because three employees of Another Way have criminal records, and a fourth flunked her rehab.
Here's the line-up: Wendy Pittman, former shelter manager; Shanna Travis, current residential director; and front-line employees Brenda Collins and Gloria Taylor.
First, Wendy Pittman. Her rap sheet includes four criminal charges of passing bad checks. And then assorted charges like welfare fraud, reckless driving, auto negligence, and more. (See Columbia County public search and enter her name).
In January of 2007 Pittman's husband filed a claim accusing her of domestic violence. Right around that time she was hired as manager of Another Way to help women break the cycle of abuse.
On May 6, 2008, the police spotted a group of teenagers drinking alcohol behind a van at a nearby river. According to the policeman's report, "As I approached the van I observed a white female passenger. I observed that the driver's eyes were severely bloodshot and pupils were dilated. The driver identified herself as Wendy Renee Pittman."
Pittman resigned from Another Way shortly afterwards.
She was replaced by Shanna Travis, a nurse who had worked at a local hospital. On February 20, 2002 Travis was admitted to the hospital for detoxification from OxyContin. Over the next two years her drug use escalated and she finally dropped out of treatment.
In 2004 the state Department of Health determined that her "judgment is so impaired that she will cause harm to patients. This probability constitutes an immediate serious danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the State of Florida." On April 26, 2005, Travis signed an agreement that suspended her nursing license for three years (See license verification).
Next in the line-up is Brenda Collins. Her rap sheet includes two counts of cocaine possession and one charge of aggravated assault with a weapon. All told she spent two years in prison, and remains on probation through 2009. (See ActiveOffenders, Department of Corrections number 543466) Collins left Another Way earlier this year.
In 1995 two persons obtained protection orders against Taylor for her "repeat violence." Four years later her husband (or ex-husband, we're not sure which) successfully petitioned the court for an order of protection against her (See Columbia County public search).
Now, her convictions for non-violent offenses: resisting an officer, one each for petit and grand theft, and six convictions for passing bad checks.
And finally the convictions for violent crimes: Improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon and two counts of written threats to kill or injure. These charges landed Taylor in the tank for 32 months. (See ActiveOffenders, Department of Corrections number: 285003) Her probation is set to expire in 2032.
Oh, and did I mention the numerous traffic violations, and the fact that she was arrested this past Friday, October 3, 2008, for grand theft?
Add them up, and Taylor has over 30 cases on file in Columbia County including 9 misdemeanor convictions and 3 felonies. Let's just say Ms. Taylor has worn out her welcome mat at the county courthouse.
So there you have Another Way:
Wendy Pittman, a hard-luck case that reminds me of a Country and Western song.
Shanna Travis, who constitutes an "immediate serious danger to the health, safety, and welfare" of Floridians.
Brenda Collins, thrice convicted and imprisoned two years; and
Gloria Taylor, another ex-con who supervises vulnerable persons in an abuse shelter.
I know it seems hard to believe, but it's all in the public record. So what happens when the inmates take over the asylum?
Horrific tales of drug use and drug dealing by shelter residents.
Unreported incidents of child abuse and sexual assault.
Misappropriation of shelter assets.
Accounts of drug-dealing at staff parties.
Discrimination against male victims.
An astronomical employee turn-over rate.
Does the word "mayhem" come to mind? Or merely "abject chaos"?
For months, Another Way staff has been urging shelter director Donna Fagan to run background checks on all employees to weed out the undesirables. But the manager has refused those pleas.
November 17, 2008 Bob Hartzog of Glendale, Arizona, was roused out of his slumber by a ringing phone. It was the cops. According to the policeman, Hartzog's wife Valentina charged he had forced her to have sex and threatened to kill her. The officer, stationed outside of Hartzog's home, ordered him outside.
Opening his front door, Hartzog found himself looking down the barrels of five loaded guns. Uncomprehending, he thought it must be a joke.
As Mr. Hartzog was hauled away to the police station, he spotted his Ukrainian-born wife in a parked car with another woman. He would later learn her accomplice was Olga Chaikheeva, a Russian immigrant who runs an abuse shelter called the Shield Foundation, located in nearby Phoenix.
As the bewildered Hartzog waited to be booked on charges of aggravated assault, little did he suspect at that very moment his house was being stripped of everything that could be pawned off in the Black Market his passport, wallet, jewelry, computer, printer, the title to his Mitsubishi, and more, all worth about $15,000.
Within hours Valentina withdrew $2,500 from his bank account. The Mitsubishi was sold to a company called Quick Fleet Auto, a fly-by-night operation owned by Art Smasch. By interesting coincidence, Mr. Smasch was the paramour of Olga Chaikheeva.
During the ensuing months Hartzog "sweated bullets," as he told me, worried he might end up doing time for a crime he never committed. But he passed the polygraph test with flying colors and Valentina's story didn't hold up. A year later the district attorney dropped the charges.
Five years ago CBS 60 Minutes ran a program called Russian Roulette. The segment chronicled Russian women who dupe unsuspecting Australian men into marrying them. The show featured one Ivan Duhs. Falsely accused and summarily evicted from his home, the wife cleaned out the house, right down to the light switches and toilet roll holders.
Marriage scams are also widespread in the United States, but with a novel twist.
One immigration official describes the ploy this way: "Beautiful young women...entice a poor, unsuspecting 40-50-year old into marrying them, and then methodically proceed to ruin his life: calling 911 to report a wife-beating...going to a domestic abuse shelter and systematically documenting every step." That's exactly what happened to Bob Hartzog.
According to its website, the Shield Foundation offers one-stop shopping for Russian immigrants: assistance with low-income housing, food stamps, Green Card, and Social Security numbers. And for women who aren't happy in their marriages, the group provides legal help to procure protection orders and divorce decrees.
But some say Olga's well-meaning efforts go too far.
According to a complaint filed by the Arkansas Justice Center, the Shield Foundation is actually a "phony women's abuse shelter." Her Shield Foundation "intimidates the women to file an Order of Protection with the City and Municipal Courts against their husbands." Then Ms. Chaikheeva "runs her well practiced drills on the husbands; tricking them into breaking the Orders, getting them arrested, making designs on their assets, etc." And if the judge denies the petition, she will "take the wife to a different court and start over."
The Shield Foundation's tax records raise more eyebrows. In 2006 a company called Advance Alliance Management which is not listed in the phone book, by the way donated a two bedroom residence so the Shield Foundation could establish its own shelter.
But according to my sources, the house had belonged to Olga's previous husband. When things went sour, Olga fabricated charges of aggravated assault. That got her the house and landed her ex- in the slammer.
Olga Chaikheeva has ruined enough lives and reputations that a number of persons have banded together to expose her scams.
One such person is Yefim Toybin, who legally immigrated to the United States in 1992 and now is a teacher and wrestling coach at a local high school. Married for 29 years, he told me, "We came to the United States for liberty and justice."
Reveling in his new-found American dream, Toybin formed a cultural organization to help Russian immigrants assimilate into Western society. But Olga tried to take control of the fledgling group. When he demurred, the woman threatened, "You will regret not cooperating with us."
Toybin told me stories like Bob Hartzog's are not uncommon. So why does he go to pains to expose the corruption of the Shield Foundation? "I don't want this country to experience the same thing that happened in my former country," Toybin explains. "I want to protect justice, potential victims, and the future of this nation."
November 21, 2008 The Family Place, an abuse shelter in Dallas, recently placed race-baiting advertisements on local buses. The ads depict a smiling African-American girl crowned with a tiara who innocently predicts, "One day my husband will kill me."
Barbara Kay of the National Post charged the ads were "outright lies." Dallas Morning News columnist James Ragland labeled them "shocking and biased." Journalist Helen Smith called them "very disturbing hate speech." And Elizabeth Crawford, president of African-Americans for VAWA Reform, denounced the bus placards as "sexist and racist."
The Family Place funded to the tune of $2.9 million a year and whose director receives an annual compensation package that tops $163,000 receives much of its funding from the federal Violence Against Women Act.
So, if the Family Place is able to indulge in hurtful racial stereotypes with impunity, what does that say about the domestic violence industry?
There's no doubt that the abuse industry strives mightily to keep a tight lid on dissent. But a few years ago, the Ms. Foundation for Women sponsored a conference probing the effects of intrusive domestic violence programs on inner-city residents.
The Foundation's tell-all report, Safety and Justice for All, reveals that "when state power has been invited into, or forced into, the lives of individuals, it often takes over." As a result, the "criminalization of social problems has led to mass incarceration of men, especially young men of color, decimating marginalized communities."
That's a strong indictment of a law that was supposed to rid our families of the scourge of violence.
Linda Mills, vice provost of New York University and author of the book Violent Partners, makes the point that our current domestic violence system, designed by college-educated white women, caters mostly to the needs and conveniences of college-educated white women. So it's no surprise that racial minorities are poorly served.
In Charleston, West Virginia, the Domestic Violence Counseling Center specializes in helping minority victims of partner abuse, female and male. But when the Center approached the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence for support, the answer was a stern "nyet."
Why? Because the Counseling Center refuses to endorse the radical feminist, anti-male ideology the West Virginia Coalition imposes on its membership.
A few years ago, Tricia Bent-Goodley wrote an article, Perceptions of Domestic Violence: A Dialogue with African-American Women. Bent-Goodley notes,
"Shelters have denied housing to African-American women for not sounding fearful enough or sounding too strong... Shelter workers have been found to make assumptions about the mental health needs and safety of the survivor based on this superficial stereotype."
Angela Mae Kupenda of the Mississippi School of Law voices a similar concern about domestic violence shelters: "In many minds, a picture has been painted of black women as hardened, tough, back-talking, strong, permissive and undeserving of protection."
These biases eventually affect the persons who are in greatest need of help.
Meagan Copelin, a former resident at the Cherokee Family Violence Center in Canton, Georgia, recently contacted me. She revealed black residents routinely faced discriminatory practices, such as being denied gas vouchers to go look for a job. One staffer "would look at us blacks like we were horrible," Copelin said.
Dolores Taylor, a single mom, had a similar experience at the Georgia shelter. "I am writing to you because I have experienced racism from the staff here at CFVC, and my departure from this facility is to prevent me from voicing what really takes place here," Taylor revealed.
When Pearl Williams and her two children arrived at the Martha House in Hamilton, Ontario, they faced a torrent of taunts: "Einy, meiny, miney, moe, catch a ..." One co-resident referred to her as "that black bitch," and a shelter worker told Ms. Williams that she should "learn how to be white." With that, she took her children in hand and fled the facility. "I swore I'd never go back to another shelter," Williams told me.
And a few miles down the road, internal racial discord contributed to the decision to shut down the Shirley Samaroo House in Toronto.
So, how does the domestic violence industry get away with these travesties? Simple.
The $4 billion-a-year abuse industry has become another self-serving interest group that steadily expands its definition of "domestic violence," advocates for policies that are out of synch with women's wishes and condones racist practices within its own ranks.
January 28, 2009 "It was really terrible what I went through." These were the first words that Yvonne Scott blurted out, even though the incident happened more than five years ago.
One morning a social worker and policeman showed up on the woman's doorstep. "Either you come with us to the abuse shelter or we take away your children," was their grim-faced ultimatum. Scott had been previously involved in an abusive relationship, but there was no current threat to Ms. Scott or any of her three children.
One might expect such an encounter to occur in the former Soviet Union or maybe a Latin America banana republic. But in the sunshine-addled state of Florida?
Scott had no choice but to hastily strap the kids into her car and follow the Child and Protective Services worker. They ended up at a domestic violence shelter in LaBelle, a few miles east of Fort Meyers in central Florida. The shelter is one of three operated by Abuse Counseling and Treatment (ACT). According to its website, the organization provides a "circle of support services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault."
But instead of a caring circle, Scott found herself confined to the four walls of a house in an isolated part of town. To her dismay, she and her children were the only residents at the facility. The shelter had three staff members, but they were out and about holding consciousness-raising sessions, attending conferences, and the like. "They ignored me and my children," Scott recounts. And when she pleaded to take her kids ages 6, 8, and 9 to a nearby park, the staff berated her.
The biggest problem, though, was no one available to mind the place during the night shift. And shelter workers fretted Scott might try to escape. Her gas gauge rested on empty, but still, she might grab her kids and walk away in the dead of night. That wouldn't look good to potential donors.
The solution? Lock the house from the outside and activate the alarm. "I felt we were in a prison," Scott's tearfully recalls.
Three weeks later her daughter's disability check came in. Yvonne Scott could finally afford gas money to escape her captors. But not so fast, first she had to wash all the linens and blankets. That should teach her a lesson.
Six months I ago I began a series of articles detailing the horrific events going on at the abuse shelters in Florida.
At the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children, director Kathy Catino was forced out after staff complained she ruled the place with an iron fist and pressured subordinates how to vote. Then a security camera caught her grabbing an employee that's known as battery.
At SafeSpace in Stuart, 16-month-old Myliak Dale was run over in the shelter parking lot and Millie Almore was fatally stabbed by another resident, all within a two week period. An investigation concluded the Almore tragedy was caused by the "egregious failure of the entire agency to satisfactorily assure the health, safety, and welfare of both its clientele and staff."
A deranged woman kidnapped a two-month-old baby, hopped in her car, and decided to take refuge but where? Well, why not at the Hubbard House in Jacksonville? It's the perfect place ~ they believe anything you say and the police know abuse shelters are a no-man's land. Fortunately, the woman was apprehended three weeks later.
At Another Way in Lake City, mischief and mayhem are the order of the day. There staff with criminal records are hired, shelter assets misappropriated, training documents falsified, drug use condoned, and shelter employees callously mistreated. Most troubling is the child abuse taking place within shelter walls: a 4-year-old girl sexually assaulted by another shelter resident, a boy confined inside a sweltering van, children left to fend for themselves while their moms toke weed, and much more.
One Another Way employee recounted, "Around November or December 2007, a man came into the office. He was crying, and his arms were bruised, seeking assistance." The intake worker "took him into her [manager's] office. Then to my amazement I heard her tell him that Another Way doesn't provide services or assistance for men."
Twice I have called on readers to alert the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to this gross violation of the public trust. But the Coalition refuses to acknowledge the problem. Maybe that's because the head of the FCADV Executive Committee is Donna Fagan. Fagan also serves as the director of Another Way.
Maybe it's time to take this to the top-we all need to bring this travesty to the attention of Florida governor Charlie Crist. His email address is Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com.
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