Archive for Tuesday, October 23, 1990

SHELTER OFFERS REFUGE FOR WOMEN TRAPED IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS

October 23, 1990

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Slamming her against the wall, Stephanie's attacker warned her that if she made one move, he would kill her.

She was not the victim of a mugging on the street, and the threats did not come from a stranger. It happened in her living room, the attacker was her husband and the death threats were not an isolated incident in Stephanie Coleman-Marks' abusive marriage.

``Looking back on my marriage, I feel like I lost two years of my life. I couldn't stand up straight. My heart was always in my stomach. My life was a private hell. I knew nothing about shelters or hotlines,'' said Coleman-Marks.

Today, Coleman-Marks not only knows about shelters for abused women, she works at one, as the community facilitator for Women's Transistional Care Services Inc.

Operated by a paid staff of four women and approximately 40 volunteers, WTCS is Lawrence's only battered women's shelter. Besides safe housing, WTCS offers abused women emotional support through peer-counseling groups and a crisis line, 841-6887.

THE STAFF members at WTCS are not simply nodding their heads to show understanding. They are women who have been in abusive relationships themselves, said Coleman-Marks.

``We're peer counselors, not school counselors or psychiatrists. We offer support because we've been there. We know,'' she said.

Coleman-Marks said that working at the shelter and talking about her own experiences has helped her come to terms with her own abusive marriage.

Coleman-Marks' work at WTCS helps a lot of women in return. During the couse of the year more than 300 women and children stay at the shelter, and advocates and staff receive approximately 2,000 calls on the crisis line, Coleman-Marks said.

FOR MANY women, WTCS is the only escape from an abusive relationship, because women often are financially dependent on their abusers and have no other place to live, she said.

``We try to let women know that they have the power to control and change their own lives,'' she said.

WTCS staff and advocates offer residents practical assistance in finding a new place to live, a job or financial aid. But the key function of the shelter simply is being a safe place, said Coleman-Marks.

To protect its residents, the shelter's location is kept confidential. The staff also screens phone calls for women living at the shelter, and residents are requested to sign in and out for safety purposes.

Coleman-Marks said that the lack of low-income housing and limited funding for WTCS have increased demand for shelter. The shelter, which can house up to 27 women and children, has been full the past few months.

``WE HAVE to be very creative with our funds, and so we have only four on staff. Lawrence is small, and there are a lot of agencies trying to tap the same resources. Money is drying up,'' she said.

Besides being funded by federal and state grants, KU Student Senate and private donations, WTCS also is a United Way agency. It is allocated $38,287 of the current United Way fund goal.

With only a few paid staff members, the shelter relies heavily on volunteers, according to Coleman-Marks. New advocates always are needed, and training sessions are held several times a year.

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