Sistercare committed to helping battered women
by Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist
Nancy Barton works hard to educate the public about domestic violence. After over two decades with Sistercare Inc., she has seen too much and heard too many stories where the only punch line comes from a fist. These stories and the women who experienced them have kept her going all her professional life. She makes no illusions about the all-consuming nature of her profession and the grim statistics that bolster it.
Barton will explain her duties and commitments to make a difference in the lives of women and children who arrive at Sistercare shelters desperate to begin the uncertain journey toward lives without violence. Barton is executive director of Sistercare Inc. and is recipient of the Woman of Achievement Award from the S.C. Governor’s Commission on Women. The award recognizes and honors women whose work and lives have made an impact on the quality of life for other women. Her testimony for today’s interview will be of her years of experiences with Sistercare and victims.
“For me, it’s a life’s work. Domestic violence is real. A woman will be battered every 15 seconds in the United States. Battering is the No. 1 cause of injury to women, and eight million children are affected by domestic violence. South Carolina has one of the worst records in the nation for deaths from domestic violence. South Carolina is now ranked No. 1 in the rate of men killing women, based on 2011 data. This year is the third time the Violence Policy Center has ranked South Carolina in the top spot in the past 10 years. There were 48 S.C. victims of criminal domestic violence in 2012 from across the state that lost their lives as the result of domestic violence. They died by knife and fist and gun. Two were beaten to death with a baseball bat. One died from general abuse from general abuse and neglect,” said Barton.
These statistics reveal only a sliver of the story. Underlying the numbers are the somber stories of people whose homes are no longer havens. The women know isolation, threats and the fear of physical harm. The children “walk on eggshells” and witness debilitating acts of violence in their homes.
The sad reality is that women are nearly always murdered by someone they know. Already, many elected officials and community leaders are working tirelessly to reduce the toll of domestic violence. Yet despite these efforts, the numbers remain unacceptably high. We need new policies in place from local communities to the federal government to protect women from harm. No American, adult or child, should live in a perpetual state of fear. It’s inhumane!
Sistercare is one of 13 shelter programs in the state. We also provide counseling support groups in five Midlands counties, including Newberry, and work with local liaisons to provide education on domestic violence prevention. We serve more women in our community based programs than in the shelters. It is an extreme choice to run from your home unless you absolutely have to. If women do run, Sistercare operates three shelters that can provide a safe haven to plan for the future. The locations are kept confidential.
• Sistercare has a full-time Newberry County Advocate to assist victims of domestic violence and their children. (Their number is 321-2155 ext. 191)
• Sistercare offers a free weekly battered women’s support group in a confidential location in Newberry County
• Fifty seven Newberry County abused women and their children were sheltered in Sistercare’s emergency shelters in 2012.
Despite the danger, victims are willing to take the risks to leave the abuse. The three shelters fielded over 3,910 crisis line calls last year. The shelters admitted 593 battered women and their children last year, average length of stay 32 days. Victims turned away due to unavailable space, 169. The total domestic violence victims served in all programs was 8,935. The volunteer hours contributed were 9,355.
The goal of Sistercare is to keep abused and battered people — real people in the community who may be your neighbors, relatives or fellow churchgoers — at the forefront. Daily, our staff assesses the situations, provide counseling, and help the victim maneuver the legal system. The Sistercare staff of seasoned professionals bears the brunt of the emotional roller coaster domestic violence represents. Counselors who have survived battering often provide the most powerful example to those in crisis. I recall hearing a counselor relate her own story to a caller on the crisis line. ‘I have six children, and I can tell you with every pregnancy the domestic violence got worse.’ She said it so wholeheartedly because she lived it.
Among the most wrenching cases was the 1994 murder of Vickie Lander Beckham from Newberry County, who was killed in a murder-for-hire by her husband, Steve Beckman.
These cases grab headlines and stick in people’s minds as the public tries to understand what drives a person to such extreme violence. Seems there is a disproportionate number of domestic homicides and murder-suicides. Research on the causes of murder-suicide is limited because overall numbers of these cases are low. Also, it is difficult to understand what happened when there are no survivors, experts say. Mix that volatile situation of a breakup with guns, depression and drugs or alcohol, and there is a recipe for violence. And the lethalness has the potential to escalate to murder-suicide, including killing of children.
There are cries heard in homes throughout our community, the sounds of women and children pursuing safety in the sanctity of their own homes. In the worst case scenario, women stay and endure the abuse because the chances of being killed are 75 percent greater if they leave. Children are killed too, or forced to see their mother murdered. It is for the protection of their children that many women stay in abusive relationships. These battered women think they can manage behavior, or at least confine the focus solely on themselves by staying in the relationship. There are not really good choices; they are ultimatums. With no other recourse, as most good mothers, they do what is necessary to protect the physical safety of their children.”
A United Way Agency, Sistercare Inc. is a nonprofit assistance and shelter program for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. The crisis-line — 1-800-637-7606 — is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A counselor is always available to talk and to provide information about assistance. The Newberry County Sistercare phone number is 321-2155, extension 191.
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