Cindy Wilson, executive director of the Roswell Refuge, a shelter for battered adults, speaks to the Kiwanis Club on Tuesday. (Randal Seyler Photo)
Domestic violence is much more common than you think, and it happens way too often — and chances are good you know a victim of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is generational,” said Cindy Wilson, executive director of the Roswell Refuge. “Many times, this is just the way it was for the grandmother, and the mother, and it just keeps getting passed along.”
She said people tend to just think of domestic violence as being physical in nature.
“It’s not just about beatings and bruises, but it is about emotional control,” Wilson said on Tuesday. “Emotional wounds can go much deeper than any bruise.”
Wilson defined domestic violence as the emotional control of any person in an intimate relationship.
“We’ve seen cases where the abuser will take away car keys, and give his spouse a cell phone and say ‘you will call every 10 minutes and you better not be late.”
The Refuge provides a safe haven for women and children trying to escape abuse, but about half the time the women leave the shelter only to return to their abuser, Wilson said.
In 2013, the shelter provided refuge to 215 women who had been abused by their husbands, boyfriends or other family members.
The Refuge also served 271 children who had also experienced or witnessed those acts of violence.
Wilson said the shelter is looking to expand in the near future, and will be opening a thrift store to the public later this month.
The Refuge began in 1981, and it is a United Way member agency.
The shelter has 10 bedrooms with 25 beds, but can hold up to 29 in a pinch, Wilson said.
“For some reason, we have been at capacity since January,” she said. “I have no idea why that is, but we have had a full house.”
Speaking at the Roswell Kiwanis Club, Wilson said that protecting the confidentiality of residents is the top priority of employees at the Refuge.
“If anyone violates the confidentiality of a client, then they will be terminated, and that includes me,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she has had phone calls from the police wanting to speak to a client, and she is unable to confirm or deny that the woman is at the shelter.
“Sometimes the officer will say, ‘I know she’s there, I just dropped her off,’ but I am still unable to breach that confidentiality,” Wilson said.
The reason for strict confidentiality is to protect the safety of the women and children who are living in the Refuge. “They are often in a pattern where they will go from one man to another, or they have no where else to go.”
Families are only allowed to stay at the Refuge for 90 days, and then they have to seek housing elsewhere.
The First United Methodist Church’s New Beginnings program is working with the shelter to provide furnishings, pots and pans and other things needed for families to begin a new life, and The Refuge works to put clients in HUD housing or in apartments, said Mike Puckett, a Kiwanian and a member of First United Methodist Church.
“We’re always accepting donations for the shelter, and anything we can’t use we pass on to the thrift store,” Puckett said.
Getting survivors to realize their behavior has to change is a struggle, but the Refuge also provides programs to teach both survivors and abusers ways to change their behaviors.
“Not all battered spouses are female,” Wilson said, “and we often take in families with little more than the clothes on their backs.”
One family of four turned up at the Refuge recently in their pajamas and nightgowns. “That was how they were able to escape, just wearing their nightgowns,” she said.
Ultimately, you can’t save people from themselves, but you can try and educate survivors about their behavior, Wilson said. With self-awareness, can come self-confidence.
Programs offered at The Refuge include a Women’s Empowerment Group, which is an educational support group designed for women to gain knowledge about domestic violence.
There is also a children’s group, “Helping Hand,” which is an ongoing art workshop and support group for children ages 5-12 who have witnessed domestic violence.
Finally, there is the domestic violence offenders treatment program, Helping Explore Accountable Lifestyles (HEAL).
This program educates men and women who display abusive behavior in intimate relationships, Wilson said. The goal of HEAL is to end all forms of violence by the abusive person and ensure safety of the victim.
“I had one young lady who had a job interview,” Wilson recalled. “When I asked her what she was going to wear to the interview, she said, ‘oh, just this.’” This, Wilson said, included cut-off jeans and a grungy shirt.
Wilson took the young woman back to the thrift store and picked out a nice outfit and shoes, and she told the woman, “when you get to the interview, I want you to stand tall and show them who you really are.”
A short while later, the young woman returned, excited she had been hired.
“It wasn’t the outfit that got her hired, but it was the woman in the outfit,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, a lot of times these women don’t understand business or how to present themselves.”
The more tools The Refuge can provide to the survivors who come there seeking refuge, the better the chances are they will be successful when they leave the shelter.
“We are always in the need of mentors, and we also need you to be engaged,” Wilson said. “Look around, domestic violence is much more common than we think. It’s not a comfortable topic, but we all have to be aware of it.”
The Refuge operates a 24-hour crisis hotline at 627-8361. Anyone in need of its services is urged to call for help.
Puckett said the New Beginnings program is in need of an inexpensive location where it can store furnishings and other donations.
Anyone interested in helping with or making donations to the New Beginnings program may contact First United Methodist Church at 622-1881.