b Victims of Domestic Abuse Find Relief at Resurrection Home -b

Beattysville, Ky. — Victims of domestic violence are from every race, creed and gender, and frequently live among us, terribly isolated and perpetually afraid. In Beattysville, Ky., a small rural community in Appalachia, victims of domestic violence have some of the best resources available, thanks to the tireless efforts of Sister Mary Kay Drouin and her staff at Resurrection Home. Violence in the home is never justified. Both the abused and abusers need Christ’s healing and strength. Sister Mary Kay, an Adrian Dominican, has walked and talked with victims of domestic abuse and their abusers for more than 20 years. She is the founder and director of Resurrection Home, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She understands the reality of abuse and its consequences, which are sometimes lethal, and what it takes to start over when an abusive situation becomes intolerable or life-threatening. Nationally, domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions. The latest statistics available from the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that in 1998 about 1-million violent crimes were committed against women and men by current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends. Eighty-five percent of victims of non-lethal domestic violence are women. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experienced the largest per capita rates of intimate violence, and about four out of 10 female victims of partner violence live in households with children under the age of 12. Approximately one-third of female murder victims are killed by intimate partners, a figure that has remained steady since 1976. According to a 1999 Survey of Women’s Health by the Commonwealth Fund, one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a boyfriend or husband at some point in their lives. In his book The Gift of Fear, best-selling author Gavin De Becker notes that statistics tell only part of the story. He writes: "Statistics tend to distance us from the tragedies that surround each incident because we end up more impressed by the numbers than by the reality. To bring it closer to home: you personally know a woman who has been battered. … She or her husband works with you, lives near you, amazes you in sports, fills your prescriptions or advises you on your taxes. You may not know, however, that women visit emergency rooms for injuries caused by their husband or boyfriends more often than for injuries from car accidents, robberies, and rapes combined." Personal stories were the motivating force behind Resurrection Home. After four years of listening to victims of domestic violence in Lee County, Sister Mary Kay opened the shelter on May 29, 1979. Its vision and mission are Sister Mary Kay’s response to the repeated cries of abuse survivors who needed a safe place for themselves and their children. With a staff of three, Sister Mary Kay, Fredia Oliver on weekends and Helen Newman during the week, Resurrection Home has become widely known in the area as a safe haven. It is a loving Christian Home where families are treated with dignity and receive love, hope and the chance for a new life. The effort has met with success. Since opening its doors, abuse in the area has decreased as abuse survivors and perpetrators, law enforcement agencies and professionals have learned to rely on the compassion and competence of the staff at Resurrection Home. In many instances, abuse happens as a result of alcohol, more often on weekends. It is not unusual for the sherrif, police or family members to bring victims in the middle of the night. Sometimes abusers even drop off their victims, relinquishing them to the care of Sister Mary Kay and her staff. "They just drive up and set them out at the top of the driveway," Sister Mary Kay said. When victims arrive, medical attention, if necessary, is the first order of business. The nearest hospital is about 45 minutes away, but a local doctor will sometimes go to the shelter. "Our local doc has been very good in rape cases," Sister Mary Kay said. Abuse victims in Beattysville face the particular obstacles of a rural community with fewer resources and greater isolation. Many local victims lack a high school education, and in a depressed economy, find the prospect of leaving all that is known and familiar behind is too great an obstacle. In addition, victims are often reluctant to divulge secrets, fearing gossip and ostracism by the community. Fredia Oliver, born and raised in Beattysville, said she is one of the more fortunate women. Although she grew up in dire poverty and was married at age 15, her father consented to her marriage with the condition that she live at home until she finished high school. "I came from a loving home. My parents were in love with each other, even though we had no money and never talked about college. I saw marriage as a way to further my education. I went from my parents’ home to my husband’s, and have never lived on my own. In this respect, I am typical of women in this area," Oliver said. "Women who want to leave often have no bank account, no job, no car." Oliver said it is easy for outsiders to judge a woman who comes in with a black eye and bruises, over and over again. The solution seems clear: any "sane" person would run from her abuser without ever turning back." But, she said, many victims have no other point of reference, having grown up in similar situations or lacking educational, financial and social resources to draw on. "It’s the devil you don’t know versus the devil you do know," Oliver said. "I know kids — victims — whom I knew as babies, when I worked in the Head Start Program. It is one of the very saddest things. Children who come from a very poor background, whose parents have no formal education and no standing in the community are not encouraged in school." As a result, she said that many do not complete their high school education and do not view themselves as having real choices for their lives. Women who have a formal education have more options, she said, and are therefore more likely to leave when domestic abuse becomes unbearable. The average length of stay at Resurrection Home is 72 hours, though some have stayed for several months. Oliver said that when people come to the door, they know they will be loved, valued, and treated with dignity. "I treat everyone who comes to the door as I would treat my own daughter," Oliver said. "We listen to them, make them aware of their options and put them into contact with other resources. We also give them clothing and necessary personal items." Men also turn to Resurrection Home as a refuge. "We counsel men, too," Sister Mary Kay said. "Men often call on weekends, or sometimes the court orders couples to come here for counseling." Abusive men, she said, often feel as trapped as their victims. Violence is learned through observation and experience, and is reinforced when their behavior gives them a sense of power and control. Recalling a recent incident, Sister Mary Kay said that men are sometimes the victims of spouse abuse. "It is far more difficult for men who are victims to acknowledge abuse," she said. "Men have to be masculine at all costs and to admit you are getting beaten up by your wife or girlfriend is very hard." Sister Mary Kay said her approach to dealing with domestic violence is "to call the shots as she sees them. There are situations that are horrendous. Sometimes keeping people together at all costs is the wrong thing to do. When alcohol is the culprit, I tell women to keep their men happy in dry dock." Interestingly, Sister Mary Kay said that young single women are more apt to return to abusive boyfriends because they delude themselves by believing they can leave whenever they want to. Needing to be needed and needing to be taken care of creates a flawed foundation in a relationship. Some women, she said, believe that any man is better than no man, and when a woman has been sexually abused as a child, she said the prospects of change are less likely. Sister Mary Kay said the key to extricating oneself from abusive situations is dignity, and having the courage to step out. Having some sense of dignity, however small, can make the difference between leaving or staying, or life or death. Abusers can also change. Often perpetrators of abuse have a very low self esteem. Power and control over their victims is a means of bolstering their own fragile sense of self. "Society’s attitude needs to change," Mary Kay said. "We need to ask why men abuse, not why women go back." In Beattysville, there have been many happy endings along with the sad ones. Sister Mary Kay likes to think of the good stories, the ones that fill her and others with joy and hope. Most battered women feel isolated and alone, but compassionate, expert help is available. The toll-free number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE. The hotline provides referrals to local programs that can provide a wide range of services.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2002