Shelter from the storm
Trish Evans advocates for abused women
Trish Evans is the interim executive director of the Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW), a non-profit organization that supports and shelters women and children from abusive households. Learn more at http://caaw.org.
Tell me about CAAW.
CAAW was founded in 1977, and it started out, basically, in a garage and then developed into a one-bedroom apartment. Currently, we have a 21-bed shelter, a seven-unit apartment for transitional housing and we are looking forward to building a 60-plus bedroom facility because the need is that great.
How has the need changed since 1977?
It has definitely increased. We have served over 60,000 clients in that time period. We average about 15 to 30 contacts a day. Our shelter has been running pretty full recently. We currently have 14 people in the shelter. All but two of our units in transitional housing are full. And they can stay in transitional housing for up to three years, so that’s a longer term residency. And the need increases, it ebbs and flows depending on what’s going on in people’s lives.
Has the economy had an impact on the number of cases?
In a couple of different ways. Some are so afraid of leaving because they have no resources whatsoever. Then, others’ resources tighten up and things escalate, so they are looking for a way to get out. They have no one to turn to.
Are the women abused by different people?
The majority is intimate partner relationships but there are also family situations—brothers, sisters, children abusing parents, grandparents, or sometimes roommate situations.
What would you say is the average age of the women you see?
I would say 29 to 35 years old.
Why is that?
They’ve lived it for a while. They know it’s not going to get better. They have children, so maybe the abuse has started to trickle down to them. While they may not necessarily have left for their own sake, they’ll leave for the children.
Do a lot of women have a hard time coming out about the abuse they’ve dealt with?
It’s very difficult to admit that they’re a victim. Oftentimes, we get calls from women who say, “I’m not sure if I’m abused,” and then they go on to describe emotional, verbal, sexual and physical abuse. In a lot of people’s minds, a battered woman is someone who has been beaten severely, so they might say that they’ve only been hit every couple months, and they don’t see that as abuse so we have to educate them that yes, it is.
Are family members and friends allowed to report if they see a loved one in a violent situation?
We get calls on a daily basis from people who are concerned, but Nevada is not a mandatory reporting state for domestic violence unless it’s an elderly person or a person who is disabled in some way. We get calls from relatives who are concerned. However, we have to talk to the victim, and ultimately, it’s the victim’s choice.
Can a minor report abuse?
Yes. We will talk to her about options and resources.
Does it ultimately have to be the choice of her parents?
Yes. We’ve had some places where we’ve placed minors in the shelter with parental consent, or in some cases, the minor may be emancipated or married, and in that case, she can make
What are the effects of the different forms of abuse? How does it impact health long-term?
Well, the psychological and emotional abuse, from the victim’s point of view, is the most difficult to get past because there are no bruises. … And if it’s happening within the confines of that home, one might not even be aware that it’s occurring, so there she’s often dealing with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. If you’re a victim of any negative circumstances long-term, you’re going to have emotional and mental health issues. A great number of our women are suffering from depression and that is not something that turns around in 30 days.
How are they educated or treated after they’ve gone through these experiences? What’s the process like?
For a woman who is going into the shelter, she has an advocate assigned to her case, so that advocate works with her, helping her to identify and achieve her goals, and they have to be her goals. These women have been told what to do for forever. And so now we are going to help them relearn how to make choices. So we look at what they want to accomplish in their life, if it’s getting housing and public assistance and surviving on their own, we help her to do that. We have parenting groups at the shelter, domestic violence education, life skills groups. And we also work with the children at the shelter, such as non-violent conflict resolution. We teach parents how to have fun with their kids, because some have never gotten that opportunity.
What are some notions about coming to a women’s shelter? Do judgments prevent women from admitting they’ve been abused?
Women across all boundaries are affected by abuse. And in general, the people who seek shelter, it’s because they have no other options. If you have money and a job and resources, you don’t go into a shelter. It’s not an easy place to live, with up to seven or eight other families with completely different lifestyles. So that’s difficult, they have to go into the shelter and leave everything behind. They take a couple of bags of clothing and things like that. We have very limited space.
Are there any cases of women who go back into these situations?
Battered women on average return 7-to-9 times before they get away.
Wow. So do you see the same women?
We have repeat contacts, and we have women who have been in the shelter before, and sometimes it takes them a couple tries to get it, to gain the strength and the courage and to take back their life and to give up someone that they love.
Do you recommend family and friends to speak out if they see violence?
That’s a little tricky, and we always encourage that if someone shares with you that they’ve been abused, believe them. Let them know that you are there for them and that there is help available. We don’t recommend that they try to give them literature. That could be dangerous. Encourage them to call. They can call us and get general information and share it when it is safe. And then just support her while she goes through the process of making that choice.
What are some signs people should notice?
For a woman starting a relationship, one of the warning signs is a push for quick involvement. That’s always a red flag. For those around the victim, the victim will become increasingly withdrawn. Batterers tend to isolate victims. If she is suddenly not coming to functions she’s always attended, that could be a sign. Anytime you have a woman who is dressed seasonably inappropriate–long sleeves in the summer, turtlenecks, that could be a sign. Unexplained bruises, excessive injuries.
What about emotionally?
It’s difficult to tell because depression comes in all forms, and battered women can be and often are depressed in these situations. But people in general can be depressed. If you are concerned, express [it] to that loved one. If you see changes, let them know that you are there for them.
Violence is a cycle. How does it start?
There is a definite cycle. Obviously at the beginning of a relationship, if abuse starts, then they’re going to walk away; there’s no attachment, no commitment. So it’s subtle, it’s gradual. Sometimes it takes years to build to that point. It’s about securing that commitment, and then taking that power away. It can start as small as criticizing things that happen to maybe name calling. It’s breaking down that victim’s self-esteem, isolating her from those who might encourage her to leave, then graduate to pushing, shoving, throwing objects, threats. It’s all about power and control. If something doesn’t stop that cycle, it will continue.
Any other advice for women?
Clear boundaries are the most important thing. And know someone before you make that commitment. Don’t isolate yourself; don’t become reliant on one person.