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Women's center needs financial help to serve victims of violence

January 30, 2011|By TRISH RUDDER | trishr@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Domestic violence and sexual assault are on the rise in the Eastern Panhandle, but funding for victim services has decreased sharply.

“Since 2000, the Shenandoah Women’s Center has grown threefold,” said Executive Director Ann K.D. Smith, “but not the funding.”

The Shenandoah Women’s Center (SWC) was formed in 1977 to provide services to help victims of violence and sexual assault. Offices are in Martinsburg, Charles Town and Berkeley Springs to help women and men who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and sexual harassment.

“But it’s not all physical abuse,” Assistant Director Teresa Shumate said. Some are victims of emotional, verbal and mental abuse, she said.

Shumate said domestic violence and sexual assault are the two main issues for which services are utilized.

A shelter to protect women and their children opened in 1979 in Martinsburg, but only a small percentage of those seeking help go into the shelter, Smith said.

Professional counseling is offered to those who do not want to go to the shelter, she said.

“It takes about seven to eight times (of being abused) before they leave,” said Smith, adding that is the national average.

“The door is open to help with 24-hour service,” Shumate said, and if problems arise again, the victims “always can come back,” she said.

The offices in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan County have people to assist victims with services, and help them prepare a protection order and go with them to court, Shumate said.

Services include a 24-hour hot line that’s available year-round; crisis and goal-oriented professional counseling; adult support groups; specialized support, advocacy and counseling for victims of sexual assault/abuse; legal, criminal justice, medical and social services advocacy; and Family Protection Act petition preparation assistance, Smith said.

Last year, the number of service hours provided by the SWC, including hot line calls, crisis counseling and criminal justice support, grew to 5,179 — a jump from 2,896 hours in 2009 — about a 79 percent increase, she said.

The programs are supported with grant funding, but providing basic needs for the offices and the shelter like electricity, heat and air conditioning, phones and office supplies are funded by donations, Smith said.

“Grant money must be for programs rather than building-operating costs,” she said.

Two office workers will be laid off in mid-February and one full-time shelter worker’s hours will be reduced to part time, Smith said. The workers were notified last week, Smith said.

“Contributions used to be about $50,000 and now last year, it was reduced to $33,000. “It’s hard to help people with lack of funds. We need the money badly,” she said.

The center will begin a fundraising campaign next month by targeting church groups, business and civic organizations, and private citizens, Smith said.

“Our greatest need is more community contributions,” she said.

Since 2009, the shelter has had a steady flow of women and their children, Smith said.

But not everyone goes into the shelter. Many women are afraid of retribution by the perpetrator, and afraid they might lose their children and the money to take care of themselves and their children, so other services are being used, Smith said.

“Community intakes are way up with so many people in need. More counseling is needed because more people are asking for help,” Shumate said.

The center added a bilingual program with an advocate who speaks Spanish, Smith said.

“More Spanish-speaking women are in our programs now,” she said.

It has also established a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to help victims that includes a police officer,  prosecutor, registered nurse and a school counselor for school-age victims, Shumate said.

Smith said used cell phones are being utilized so victims can connect to 911. All cell phones will connect to 911 even if there is no service provider or an account.

The center needs more donations of used cell phones to help keep those victims safe, she said.

“We make sure a client has a cell phone that can be used for a 911 emergency call,” Shumate said.

Smith has been working at the center for about 20 years and has been its executive director since 1995.

Eleven years ago, Shumate began working in the Martinsburg shelter.

“The first day on the job was an eye-opener. It was full with women and their children. Kids were everywhere,” she said.

A lot of the victims thank shelter workers after getting them out of a bad situation, Shumate said.

If the perpetrator gets help, sometimes the family can stay together, Smith said.

But Smith and Shumate find satisfaction in their jobs even when the center receives threats from the victims’ spouses or partners. All locations are always locked.

“We must be vigilant for our own safety,” Smith said.

“But we are encouraged because a lot of people have been helped,” Shumate said.

“Otherwise, we could not have lasted this long,” Smith said.

Shenandoah Women’s Center 24-hour hot line:
Berkeley County, 304-263-8292
Jefferson County, 304-725-7080
Morgan County, 304-258-1078
To donate a phone or money, call the business office at 236 W. Martin St. in Martinsburg at 304-263-8522. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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