SARC rises to answer call for help

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 to 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 process 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.

She says she also understands that, although she cannot change her former partner's violent behavior, she certainly doesn't have to accept it. 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.

SARC is the only resource in the county solely dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. The nonprofit organization operates out of a small clapboard cottage on East Gordon Street in Bel Air.

"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," says Madeleine Grant, SARC's executive director.

She estimates that the center 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, says Deputy Nancy Brewer, who works in the domestic violence and child support unit of the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"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 lifestyles, says Ms. Grant.

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."

Deputy Michael T. Becker, who attended a one-day SARC seminar last year, says it helped him gain a better understanding of 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.

He recalls a recent incident in which a victim feared that her husband would return, even after he was ordered to vacate their home.

"She didn't know where to go," he says. "I called SARC and they put her up in a motel to insure her safety."

Deputy Becker says deputies assigned to domestic violence cases now carry printed index cards that they give to victims to make them fully aware of SARC's services.

"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. We'll connect her with all the services she needs."

A variety of services

SARC also provides crisis intervention and counseling; accompaniment 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," adds Ms. Anderson.

But often that's not enough, says Ms. Grant. She said Harford County is one of just four Maryland counties that does not have a shelter for abused women.

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

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