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February 25, 1979 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily, 1979-02-25
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Page 4-Sunday, February 25, 1979-The Michian DilyThe Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily Sunday, Fe

The beatings goon,.

but SAl

House helps victims handle ci

tions to the House even over the phone, because a
batterer may just be asking a woman friend to call
for him. If possible, an Assault Crisis Center worker
or a SAFE House staff member will arrange to meet
a woman somewhere and bring her to the House.
But if it is an emergency, and there is no other way,
directions will be given over the phone.
But before they can feel secure, the women must
trust the staff at SAFE House, and that is not,
always so easy. When women come to SAFE House
they are more emotionally than physically scarred.
Although there are exceptions, most women don't
require hospitalization for-their injured bodies. But
they do need understanding for their injured
"They have just made one of the most difficult
decisions of their lives," Granville explains, "and
we are asking them to trust a group of total
strangers. When the person they are supposed to
trust the most has violated that trust by abusing
them, how can we expect them to immediately trust
us? It is only natural that they should be wary of
trusting anyone."
The women may also, have some difficulty in ac-
climating themselves td the living situation at the
House, which is basically cooperative. Everyone
eats together, and they all share in the house
chores. Except for one man who does repair and

By Ken Parsigian

House lRules
Volation of tAese ruleseis rounds for
e ntion of terporary rea ncae at
2QaAA L orAy
3 a-rnOin n bedrooms.
Keep o/Idoors locked (ony s#oQo are f cr.
5 Adul/s m iusn
b. Before discharge each w oman must strip
her bed Ei gau±
7Eoc Aoml m ust keep +beir bedroom and
bot room CIcan .
2. Bedtime fn Ofl. CO children

IT WAS MY FIRST day as an Outreach volunteer
to the Domestic Violence Project, and I was
nervous. Unmoved by my obvious uneasiness,
however, the blond, brown-eyed six-year-old boy
who stood before me put me to an immediate test:
"Do you hit people?" he asked with his pure,
unyielding eyes fixed on mine. I squeezed his puffy
little hand, and stooped to one knee as I earnestly
replied, "No, Billy, I wouldn't hit anyone."
"Why not?" he queried incredulously. "My dad-
dy hits people, so I thought all big men must hit
On the ride back to SAFE House I explained that
his daddy.was the exception rather than the rule, and
he thanked me as he nuzzled close to my side. I
should have thanked him; he had quickly dispelled
any doubts I had about what I could offer the women
and children at SAFE House.
* * *
SAFE House, as its name implies, is a place
where battered women and their children can go to
be safe. The acronym stands for Shelter Available
For Emergency, but to the women seeking refuge
from an abusive partner, "safe" says it all.
A visitor would get no clue about SAFE House as
he or she drove up the rocky, winding driveway that
leads to the large but simple home. Children play on
the spacious front yard, and a few cars are parked
near the garage; externally, it appears the average
suburban home. Even as the visitor knocks on the
double-locked front door, he or she could never an-
ticipate the reaction within. But inside, the normal
working day is momentarily halted. No one is
frightened by an unexpected knock at the door, but
everyone is just a little tense. The location of the
shelter is kept secret from everyone save those who
work and live there, for the protection of the
women. It is highly unlikely that a batterer will ap-
pear at the door, but every unexpected knock raises
that possibility.
"At first I was very scared," said one battered
woman who wished to remain anonymous. "I was
certain he'd (her husband) come after me, and if he
found me again I was sure he'd kill me. After a few
days the fear disappeared, but not the concern.
Whenever there was a strange noise at night, or a
knock at the door, the thought that it might be him
rushed into my head."
Such fears are shared by many women at the
shelter, and allaying those fears is the staff's
primary concern. Kim Hoa Granville, who is the
director of SAFE House, explains:
"You've got to remember that most of the women
who come here are in crisis. They come to us either
from dangerous or threatening situations, and our
primary concern is to provide safe emergency
housing, and to make them feel secure."
The location of the shelter is kept secret as a
security measure, but it does create some dif-
ficulties. Staff members are reluctant to give direc-
Ken Parsigian is a former Daily managing
editor, and SAFE house worker.

Wnen tney are not busy with appointments, the
women at SAFE House lead generally tranquil
lives. After the breakfast dishes are washed and the
children are hustled off to school, there is time to
relax. And in true, stereotypic homemaker fashion,
the women gather in the dining room to sip coffee
and chat about day-to-day life. Except for the
disproportionate number of babies, it seems a
typical American home.
After lunch, the television set is the star, as many.
women still keep up on their favorite soaps. I have-
never understood the appeal of soap operas,
especially to women at the shelter whose personal
stories are filled with more heartbreak and tragedy
than anything a director can invent. But it has
become a ritual for many of them, and it passes the
time without requiring much attention.
The cooperative living situation also facilitates
peer counseling, which is strongly encouraged. The
women support each other, and help each other to
resolve their own problems.
In the evenings, after the children have been put
to bed, and only the overnight staff person is on
duty, the women often gather in the living room to
commiserate. The women who join in are as
mismatched as the donated furniture in the room:
White, black, Chicano, and Oriental; employed,
jobless; married, single; with families, childless.
But as different as they are, they share a common
fear and dependence with which no staff member
can truly empathize. They open up to each other in a
way that they often can't to an advocate.
Kathy Fiorello, a former client who is now a
VISTA volunteer at the shelter, recalls those
evening discussion sessions:
"It was easier for us to talk to each other because
we had all had similar experiences. And when we'd
get together at night and start to compare stories, it
was as if we were all married to the same man."
One night, when I had stayed late, I listened from
the office while the women talked in the living room.
The experience made me realize how bogged down
we often get in the women's physical needs. Much of
an advocate's kime with a client is spent scouring
the classifieds for apartments, and driving back
and forth between social service agencies. Such
topics are secondary in these informal, nightly
group sessions. Most women are convinced their
cases are "unique" when they arrive at SAFE
House, but when they find they are not alone they
are usually anxious to share experiences and learn
frqyn each other.
The cooperative living situation and the peer
support are only two aspects of the self-help at-
mosphere that prevails at SAFE Douse. Even the
efforts of advocates are oriented toward helping the
women help themselves. If there is one firm rule for
advocates it is to never make decisions for the
women. Our job is not to push them into a divorce or
separation, but to make all their options clear to
them. We help them explore the possible paths they
may choose, and support them in whatever
decisions they make about their futures. As ad-
vocate Gail Vernick puts it, "If it is the right time,
and if a woman feels strong, then she will take
positive steps to improve her situation. But if she
isn't ready, then she shouldn't be pushed."
sity senior Jane Conrad points out, "The
first thing we have to give these women is
a sense of self-worth. They are used to having
decisions made for them, primarily by their abusive
partner, and we have to encourage them to take
controlof their own lives. If we make decisions for
them, then they may just be exchanging one master
for another."
But the women don't always make this an easy

credo-to follow. They are generally scared and
fused when they come to the shelter. They arE
customed to being dependent on someone else,
they often encourage an advocate to take step;
"How am I supposed to know what I want to
a woman once screamed at me after a frustra
half hour of trying to outline her needs and g
"You're my advocate, you've been though this
other women. Can't you just tell me what I'm
posed to do?"
Frankly, I was tempted, as is every advocat
one time or another. It would have been simpy
me to tell her what I thought she should do, bt
the long run she would never be satisfied wi
decision she didn't make for herself. I would onl
perpetuating her dependency upon others, an
my case; upon men. That is exactly what I told
Photos by
Andy Freeberg
but my words had no magic effect. She felt rejec
and said I hadn't really tried to help her. "No
cares about me," she said, as she left the r
I almost broke down. I felt I had left this help
woman no place to turn. But as I pondered ti
words "helpless woman," I realized how
perpetuating such a thought is. She was
helpless, but simply unaccustomed to deci
things for herself. Fortunately, she returned a s
while later, and we outlined her goals based on
decisions with my suggestions and support. A!
she had not come back, I would have had to be
tent to know that it was not, as advocate Ver
said, "the right time."
"The last thing I wanted to be bothered with
what I was going to do after I left SAFE House,
woman said later. "I didn't want to think about
problems. I resented it at first when the pe
there tried to make me confront my problems, t
really appreciate it when I look back. They ni
told me what to do, but they were always willin
help me decide, and to help me carry out
decisions once I made them."

But SAFE House prc
shelter and a forum for v
Once a client has decided
advocates are ready 1
bureaucratic maze of sac
women who come to SAF
con- money, so their first nee
e ac- is not because wife-beat
and the poor, but rather bec
s for have resources don't need
"If I were a battered w
do," says, "I could just tak(
ating check into a hotel. I wo
oals. most of the women wh
with limited resources."
sup- Because their abusive
them isolated, many SAF
te at have any friends nearby I
e for even if they do have frier
ut in these people are often po
th a to house the battered won
y be "He locked me in the I
d in he'd find me and kill me,
her,, called my sister to help
him too. Then I called the
was nothing they could
about SAFE House."
The shelter is a solutio
but only a temporary one.
SAFE House for 30 day
housing, if she decides
cted, another major concern. B
one Washtenaw County whenc
oom difficult, and it is almost
budget. Many women get
less this is a reason to return
hose continued abuse.
self- In the 11 months SAFE
not has had 135 clients, but ac
ding half of them do go back
hort quick to point out, hoN
her necessarily consider a wo
nd if failure. "There are a lot c
con- might not be ready to lea
nick don't consider that a fail
that at least now they k
was House exists, and it is
'the another time if they need i
my It is difficult, nonethele:
ople woman who returns to an
but I wonder what a particular'v
ever at a given moment. Even t
g to shelter for a month, it is e
my involved in these women

9 Quiet hours 9:'Of. P--


groundswork, the women keep the house running by
themselves. There is a sign in the dining room
assigning and detailing the jobs-cooking, cleaning,
The women also share babysitting duties. A
typical day for a woman at the shelter is. fast-paced.
She might have an appointment at the Department
of Social Services in the morning, a meeting with
someone at Legal Aid at noon, and several apar-
tments to inspect in the afternoon. Since it isn't
always possible (and is never-convenient) to bring
the kids along, they are often left at the house with a
woman who isn't busy that day.
Some women do not adjust well to this way of life.
According to Granville, "people in crisis can be
quite volatile in their reactions to certain situations.
We do meet some resistance to the cooperatie
situation. Some women qu'estion the fact that we d
not have janitorial services, and maid services. and
cook services. But for these women, who have been
very well isolated, to know that there are other
women in the same situation and for them to learn
to live with this group is very important. It is a test
of their strength and their level of tolerance for tin-
comfortable situations. It helps them learn to resolve
conflict in a healthy and positive manner.' .

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