IF ALL THE women who experienced domestic violence during last year were to join hands, the line of women would reach from New York to Los Angeles and back again, according to Fran Price, director of CASA, Citizens Against Spousal Assault of Howard County.
This domestic-violence agency was founded in 1978 by the Howard County Task Force for Battered Women and was run solely by volunteers. Today, there's a small staff, but volunteers remain its backbone. It operates on government and private funds and is located at 8950 Gorman Plaza Building, Route 108, Suite 116, Columbia. Its Helpline is 997-2272 (997-CASA). Price is director, and Diane Craig is the volunteer coordinator.
Emily Howard of Columbia has been volunteering to the Helpline for four years, answering the telephone from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. one night each week. She says she averages two or three calls in an evening.
''When a woman calls CASA and says her husband has beaten her up for the first time in her life, she is heard. Her choices are to report to the police, go to the emergency room if necessary and to be given shelter for herself and children if necessary. A Helpline volunteer will respond to her needs,'' says Howard. CASA maintains Safe House, a crisis shelter and transitional house.
Counseling and parenting skills help are available, she says, as is help with children who have witnessed domestic violence. Abusive spouses who have been mandated by the courts to get counseling can receive it at CASA.
Howard isn't sure why but she says her phone has been quiet lately. ''I love not having calls because I think people are getting help before an emergency happens. Then again, I worry that they are afraid to call,'' says the soft-spoken 43-year-old who is single and has had personal experience with abuse and has empathy with her callers.
To help forget her own problems, she says, she volunteered to CASA but didn't have any idea what a nice feeling she would have being able to help someone on such a sensitive issue.
''I've become so aware of the healing power of a kind word and how damaging an angry word can be,'' she says.
Howard works as a products specialist for Arbitron, the media research company in Laurel. Her fun includes ''working out, loving to walk, big on dancing, making plans to ski this winter, plus I read a lot. Also I'm a member of the Exchange Club of Howard County, a community service organization very involved in the prevention of child abuse.''
Volunteers to CASA, she says, must have a two-weekend training period to understand abuse and its cycle. ''When the fun and roses of the honeymoon fade, the tension swells and, within months or a year, a blow-up will often be physical. Then come the vows that it will never happen again, but it does, and the cycles get shorter and shorter, during which time the woman often takes on the blame. She feels she triggers the anger by her actions, even something simple like having chosen the wrong menu for dinner, which isn't true,'' says Howard.
Statistics on spousal abuse of women are dramatic. According to CASA, a woman is battered every 15 seconds in the United States. That amounts to more than 2 million women a year, with 1 million seeking assistance for their injuries. About 30 percent of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
CASA volunteers answer some 3,000 Helpline calls and shelter more than 100 women and children each year.
Volunteers are needed on the Helpline, for clerical support, for shifts in the two shelters and for special events and fund-raisers. For more information call Diane Craig at the CASA office, 997-0304.