With SARC, victims can find refuge

August 14, 1994|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

When a blow to her stomach sent Rachel into early labor in the seventh month of her pregnancy, she broke the bond of silence that had kept her chained in a vicious cycle of remorse and abuse.

Rachel, a victim of domestic violence, filed assault charges against her partner and had him removed from her home by court order. She also sought help from the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center Inc., known as SARC, in Bel Air.

Today, her healthy 4-month-old boy is the joy of her life and the visible signs of abuse have faded. But Rachel's emotional scars remain.

Her healing is slow, but three months of group counseling at SARC have put Rachel on the road to recovery. She says she has learned that her situation is not unique, and that she is not to blame for the bruising punches she's endured.

Through counseling, she has regained the power to make

choices about her life.

Rachel, who requested anonymity because she fears retribution from her abuser, is one of a sharply increasing number of Harford County women who are finding the courage to report assaults to the authorities and to seek assistance from SARC.

"Our caseload tripled the first half of the year . . . In April and May alone, our counselors saw 110 new victims, while continuing to ++ help existing clients," Madeleine Grant, SARC's executive director, says.

She estimates that the nonprofit center, which operates out of a small cottage in Bel Air, will aid about 600 new clients this year and that volunteers will receive more than 2,000 calls on SARC's 24-hour Helpline.

The increased number of protective and ex parte orders issued by the courts -- which require abusers to temporarily leave their homes to protect the victims -- further illustrates the increase in domestic violence cases, Sheriff's Deputy Nancy Brewer says.

"In April of this year, our office delivered 50 ex parte and 19 protective orders, compared to 20 ex parte and 12 protective orders in April 1993," she says. "And that number doesn't reflect orders that are issued by the court here that are delivered outside Harford County."

Domestic violence is a widespread problem that affects people of all races, religions and economic groups, Ms. Grant says.

Nationally, FBI statistics show that a spouse is beaten every 15 seconds. About 95 percent of the victims are women.

Ms. Grant attributes the rise in caseloads at her office to heightened awareness of the problem throughout society and training programs SARC offers to police officers.

"We train police in handling victims . . . we try to make them understand what goes on in the victim's head and the head of the abuser, and we advocate arrest," she says.

"We also ask police to inform victims of their rights and to let them know that we are available 24 hours a day to provide immediate assistance."

Sheriff's Deputy Michael T. Becker, who attended a SARC seminar last year, says it helped him understand domestic violence.

Deputy Becker, who serves abusers with ex parte orders, says he learned how difficult it is for victims to report assaults because they often stay with their abusive partners out of fear, economic and emotional dependence, or hope that the dangerous situation will change.

"Our first concern for the victim is safety," says Noreen Anderson, a therapist and coordinator of SARC's domestic violence program. "If she's not safe at home, we will put her and her children up in a motel. We'll even send a taxi to take her there."

SARC also provides crisis intervention and counseling; a companion to go to hospitals and courts; legal advocacy; educational support groups for victims, children and abusers; and referrals for appropriate help from other agencies.

"We try to provide everything the victim needs to stay safe," Ms. Anderson adds.

Harford County doesn't have a shelter for abused women, Ms. Grant says. But that is about to change.

SARC has received a $600,000 state bond to convert a county-owned building near Bel Air into a shelter, and Harford County has promised to provide architectural work and other services.

The shelter is scheduled to open next spring. SARC estimates it will need $150,000 annually to operate the facility and hire staff. SARC is partially financed by state and county money, federal grants and the United Way, but it also depends on community contributions.

"We're continuously trying to find new financial sources," Ms. Grant says. "We're in line holding out our tin cup everywhere.

"Our caseloads are rising dramatically, but our staff has stayed the same," she says. "Only two counselors handle the entire load. They are overwhelmed."

The shelter will provide immediate refuge from potentially lethal situations for eight women and their children for up to eight weeks. That's important, because when a battered woman leaves a violent situation she still may not be safe.

"Seventy-five percent of women receiving serious injury had already left their husbands at the time of the attack," Ms. Anderson says.

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