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abuse victims with no place to go

By Nancy Knox
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 11, 1999
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Question: What do Axel Rose, Tommy Lee and Tommy Lee Jones have in common?

Answer: They have all been convicted of domestic violence.

Once considered the pastime of men in sleeveless undershirts and hats bearing beer logos, domestic violence has come out of the trailer park. Truthfully, it has always been present in all socio-economic strata, despite the prevailing stereotype. Now with such high-profile victims such as Pamela Anderson and Farrah Fawcett bearing bruises on the covers of tabloids, society is being made aware of the presence of domestic abuse.

The quintessential question with many answers is "Why don't they just leave?" One response may be "because society programs them to stay."

Women are propelled toward the myth of marriage from a very early age. Our heads are filled with images of the perfect partner, the promise of living happily ever after, and a wedding day that will undoubtedly be the "most important day of our lives."

We are expected by society to pool our finances, our living arrangements, our assets and even our identities. Societal institutions go so far as to coerce us into forsaking our own names to become "Mrs. Someguy." If after all our efforts this marriage myth does not come to fruition, it is because we failed. We were not giving enough, loving enough, good enough. Be a better woman and things will work out. Your children need two parents. You are nothing without your man.

There is plenty of societal pressure to stay. Single mothers do not occupy a very popular position in our society. They are seen as selfish narcissists who uprooted their children and are singularly responsible for crushing blows to the institution of family. They are credited with the very unraveling of the fabric of society. Worse yet, if they are poor, they are not only weak and myopic; they now expect society to raise their children for them. How irresponsible!

Abusers take these societal views and combine them with other tactics to their advantage. They are a crafty bunch with an instinctive ability to protect themselves and evade the blame. They often employ methods of isolation and debasement to gain further control over their victim. The victim no longer maintains friendships outside the relationship, for fear of upsetting the abuser. Family is labeled meddlesome; friends are unworthy and trouble making. The emotional abuse inflicted on the victim can in actuality be more detrimental than its physical counterpart. It lowers the self-esteem and tenacity of the abused. The victim begins to feel "powerless' and most frightening of all, may begin to believe that she actually "deserves what she gets."

It becomes profoundly difficult to facilitate an escape in the midst of this emotional chaos and societal blackmail. So, what happens to those victims who despite impediments, decide they must leave?

For those with no money, no friends, no family willing to take the risk of harboring a victim and possibly incurring violence themselves, a shelter may be their only hope of salvation. Currently, in Tucson, there are only two shelters in operation, the Brewster Center and the Tucson Center for Women and Children. They can accommodate 40 and 60 individuals respectively.

More than 70 percent of the women and children who sought safety in the shelters last year were refused respite due to lack of space. Only 7,000 of the 24,000 women and children requesting shelter were able to receive assistance. No beds were available for the remaining 17,000.

The Brewster Center alone fields between 100 to 200 crisis calls per month. Both centers are private non-profit organizations, operating on contributions and a portion of state funds, earmarked to cover all aspects of domestic violence programs, including those that benefit the abuser. They receive no federal assistance. The state itself receives federal funds under the Violence Against Women Act and determines where those funds will be channeled.

Currently, there are no plans to increase funding for shelters, even in light of extremely high turn-away rates.

The shelters need help. Due to the societal tendency to victim-blame, they do not receive the "glamour" dollars garnered by other less-distressing charities. Donations and volunteers are always welcome as the shelters operate outreach programs and advocacy clinics in addition to residential services. Calls can be made to Gov. Jane Hull's office at 1-800-253-0883, to appeal on behalf of the shelters and their need for funds.

Domestic violence is abhorrent and should not be tolerated, but we must remember that it doesn't start with a black eye or a twisted arm. It starts with our unquestioning acceptance of gender roles and the place of women in society. It is my hope that we will be able to overcome those forces that put women in positions of dependency. Meanwhile, perhaps we can work to provide shelter and safety.