Slaying exposes gap in services Agency sees woman's killing as a defeat

March 08, 1998|By Jill Hudson SO SUN STAFF

When Vera Case was found slain in her Mount Airy home in January, workers at the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County felt a pang of defeat.

They wondered how Case, 31, could become the victim of her husband's brutal and jealous rage after center workers spent two decades educating Howard residents about domestic abuse.

"When we heard about Vera's murder, we kept asking ourselves, 'Why wasn't she familiar with our services?' " says Shelley Brown, director of community education for the center, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. "There was obviously a gap in our outreach services that allowed this woman to slip through the cracks.

"It really brought home the fact that we still have so much to do out there," Brown says. "We have to find out what we're not doing to miss a case like hers. As an agency, we certainly have limits, but something like that [the slaying] should not happen."

Now entering its 21st year, the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County faces big challenges.

What began as an outreach center for women who were being abused by men now also tends to the needs of men who are abused by women, victims of violence at the hands of same-sex partners, warring siblings, dating couples and children who beat their parents.

"We now view family violence as something that affects the entire community," Brown explains. The center "explores any kind of abuse that's happening in the home."

In 1976, the Howard chapter of the National Organization for Women sponsored a small forerunner of what would eventually become the Domestic Violence Center after realizing that no county agencies were set up to handle spousal abuse.

Soon, a small network of energetic volunteers was organizing a grass-roots task force to help end domestic violence. They held support group sessions in their homes and offered emergency shelter to battered women and their children.

In 1978, CASA -- Citizens Against Spousal Abuse -- was officially begun. CASA became the Domestic Violence Center three years later.

The private, nonprofit organization provides food, clothes and temporary shelter to battered women. It operates an emergency hot line for abuse victims as well as counseling and legal services.

The center also sponsors what its workers call a "new behavior program," designed to help men who are abusive learn anger-management skills. Though most of the men who attend the program are ordered to do so by the courts, more are attending the series of 16-week sessions on their own.

Although awareness about domestic violence has grown within the past 10 years, Brown says many Howard residents who are abused face a particularly insidious stigma.

"Some people still believe that if you have the economic resources -- like so many people do in Howard County -- that you don't face the same sorts of problems as everyone else," she says. "It's absolutely false."

And although Howard has more than its fair share of wealthy residents, funding for the center's services is sometimes sparse.

The center's $413,000 budget is underwritten by local, state and federal grants, corporate and private donations and fund-raising events.

Auction items include a baseball autographed by Cal Ripken Jr., a Blues Brothers T-shirt signed by Dan Aykroyd and original television scripts signed by the casts of "Homicide" and "Law and Order."

Attendees can also place bids on services donated by local merchants and professionals like Dr. David Tayman, owner of Columbia Animal Hospital, where Case worked as a lab technician the last eight years of her life.

Her estranged husband killed her, drove off and shot himself to death at an entrance to Patapsco Valley State Park in Baltimore County, police said.

It's important to stand behind agencies that work to fight domestic abuse, says Tayman, whose staff recently spent an hour with center counselors to deal with the death of Case and discuss ways to spot and help battered victims.

Tickets for the Sixth Annual Dance and Silent Auction are available by calling 410-997-0304.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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