Mayor Michael Nutter speaks at Drexel University at a Women Against Abuse public awareness event. Women Against Abuse helps operate the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline, along with Lutheran Settlement House in Fishtown and others. WOMEN AGAINST ABUSE PHOTO
You’re a great mom, and you’re doing a really good job.
It’s so hard, I understand.
You’re so brave to call here.
These are some of the reassuring words that can be heard filling the hallways upstairs at Fishtown’s Lutheran Settlement House, where the center operates a domestic violence telephone helpline.
On one end of the line, callers might ask for help finding an emergency women’s shelter for the night, or call needing advice on how to keep themselves safe in their homes.
On the other end of the line are volunteers like Port Richmond’s Georgeann Newman.
Newman, a mother of two, knows the words to say — the ones she said she would have most liked to have heard herself. A volunteer with LSH since 2007, Newman said she turned to the agency when she was experiencing abuse in her own life.
Newman said she happened upon a card with a phone number to call in the case of domestic violence — 1–866-SAFE-014. That number directs to call centers at LSH, Congreso, Women Against Abuse and Women in Transition.
When Newman reached LSH, she spoke to a helpful call center volunteer, Kim Rickus.
“She was so kind. Finally, someone understood me,” Newman said.
Newman said she’s been confronted with the question of why anyone would stay in an abusive relationship.
“We [victims of violence] are not stupid. We’re smart. We know what we have to do to keep our kids safe and us safe,” she said.
Newman explained the choices women might consider if they want to abandon their abusive relationship.
“You can go to an apartment, a friend’s house, a hotel or a shelter,” Newman explained. “But then, what if the kid gets sick, and there’s no money left for a hotel? What if your abuser threatens your friends or family you’re living with? What if the shelter runs out of funding? Where do you go with a sick kid and no money?”
In these cases, she continued, many women decide to stay with their abusers, who are often in control of their victims’ financial wellbeing.
In fact, The New York Times reported in 2009, “As the recession has deepened, domestic violence rates have risen in Philadelphia and across the nation.” The reason: it’s more difficult to leave abusive relationships if the victim of abuse or his or her children are financially dependent on the abuser.
The domestic violence statistics in the city are sobering — see domestic violence statistics at the bottom of this story — but there are glimmers of hope.
According to Katie Young-Wildes, director of fund development and communications with Women Against Abuse, is that the domestic violence homicide figure was down to 24 in 2012. The highest number in recent years, she said, was 37.
“It’s still not zero,” Young-Wildes said.
More good news: on May 13 it was announced that a second WAA-run 100-bed emergency shelter for victims would open in the city.
The new facility will be made possible by a $3 million appropriation from City Council. The city’s Office of Supportive Housing awarded Women Against Abuse $2.5 million, and the remianing $500,000 was awarded to Congreso, for other forms of emergency housing and support for victims of the Latina community, Young-Wildes said. The location of the new facility is undisclosed, but is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.
Young-Wildes said the city doesn’t have one overarching central agency to address domestic violence issues directly, so WAA works within each system to implement change.
“Our long-term vision is to have hospitals, court rooms, cops and therapists all education about domestic violence, so when a survivor comes to them, they can be linked to safe supports,” she said.
LSH volunteers, Newman said, are trained to be able to offer a bevy of resources to give callers choices and guidance.
She tells women in need of a safe space to call LSH back every single day until room in the shelters opens.
She also has key points she reminds callers of.
“You reassure them that this shouldn’t happen to anybody,” Newman continued. “They try to downplay themselves, like, ‘If I didn’t do that, he wouldn’t have reacted that way,’ and you have to say, ‘No, this shouldn’t happen to anyone.”
Sometimes women call, Newman said, and then don’t leave their abusers or go for help to any resource. She said she’ll go to bed worrying about a caller, but knows that by giving them the information they need, she’s “planting a seed.”
“Hopefully that person will call again,” she said. “That is empowering.”
Newman said the history of abuse in her own life helps her be empathetic to callers and be a better volunteer.
“A lot of people who work here have been through domestic violence or they had a mother who went through it when they were a child. They’re very caring and understanding, because they’ve seen it,” she said.
In the three days per week Newman works, she’ll get between 15 and 30 calls in about a 3-hour shift. The calls never get any easier, she said.
So why does she continue her volunteer work, despite the emotional challenges?
“Knowing where I was, and where I am — I want to help that person get to this point. Places like this are a glimmer of sunshine through the darkness,” she said. “And hope.” ••
Domestic Violence facts and figures in Philadelphia and the nation
Homicides from domestic violence in Philadelphia:
Highest in ‘recent years,’ says WAA: 37
2009: 35, up 67% from 2008
2012: down to 24
Domestic violence shelter beds available in cities:
Washington, D.C.: 16 beds per 100,000 people
Baltimore: 11 beds per 100,000
Philadelphia: 6 beds per 100,000
WAA will open a second shelter, with 100
beds, by the end of 2013.
More WAA figures:
8,465: The number of requests for safety in WAA’s shelter that were turned away in 2012.
108,525: Domestic violence calls to the police in 2012.
9,515: Number of individuals who called the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in 2011.
Sources: Women Against Abuse and The New York Times.