Off the Beaten Path

A domestic violence refuge suffers a big hit.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Feb. 4, 2009

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For four years before the beatings began, Price lived in a home with her then-boyfriend and four beautiful children. Then the violence erupted and snowballed in an all-too-typical scenario.

"Screaming led to shoving which led to the beatings," says Price, rubbing the part of her arm where the mended bone awkwardly juts out above her elbow. Before she knew it, the bullied mom was being terrorized in her own home.

She had four children to protect, but she lacked the resources to escape. Stuck between homelessness and a fist in the face, she felt trapped in an impossible situation. Without WAA, she wouldn't have been able to leave. Now she worries about the future of safe havens for women like her.

photo by Michael Persico

Currently, the city's lone shelter has room for only 100 women and children, and stays are limited to 90 days. Despite the demand for placements, Philadelphia lags far behind similar-sized cities in domestic violence services.

To make things worse, last year Pennsylvania's community-based domestic violence programs lost $800,000 in state aid and almost half a million dollars in federal support.

Meanwhile, in 2006, women across Philadelphia filed 71,350 cases of domestic abuse. In the same year, 13,039 Protection From Abuse Orders were issued.

The need is there.

And though the city budget is a mess, now is the worst possible time to abandon our most vulnerable and neglected citizens. Experts say domestic violence escalates in bad economies, because that's when household stress levels go up. Last year, the national domestic violence hotline (1-866-SAFE-014) reported a 21 percent spike in calls. Shelters across Pennsylvania have been packed for months.

Christine Stutman, deputy director of WAA, says the WAA shelter's been at or near capacity since last fall. She explains that larger families are disproportionately affected by the crunch.

"If someone wants to come in with their kids, we may not have the room. But if there's a single woman, we still have a bed at least," she says. "And that always sucks."

Like most Americans, the staff at WAA worries about losing their jobs if there are more cuts and the shelter is forced to close. Since the initial round, Price has taken on more duties. She talks of having to stop paperwork to grab sheets when a new family arrives or going into the locked fridge to grab a bottle of milk for a fussy baby in the middle of the night.

But if the worst happened and the shelter closed, she says, it's not hard to imagine the outcome.

"Statistics would go up drastically of men killing women," she says, "because they wouldn't have nowhere else to go."

In 2006, 64 women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in Pennsylvania.

Price prefers to refer to the shelter as a "safehouse." She believes the term "shelter" turns people off and conjures up images of cold gymnasiums lined with cots.

Though not exactly cozy, the WAA facility is not the typical vision of a shelter. The place is spartan, but spacious and clean, and most families are afforded the comfort of private rooms. Community meetings are held in a common area clustered with coffee tables. A faint whiff of bleach trails down the long hallways.

On a recent visit to the shelter, about half of the residents are kids. (Last year slightly more children than women used the shelter's services.) During this visit, the place is packed--all 85 beds and 15 cribs are being used--but only a few people roam the halls. Many of the women are at work, despite the fact that their world has recently been pulled inside out. The older kids are at school, navigating their way through the foreign hallways of new schools in new school districts.

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Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Kierra said... on Feb 4, 2009 at 08:48AM

“This is a very touching story, and Stephanie sounds like a wonderful person. I think that it should be a fund set up to assist her in her endeavor to open her own facility.”

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2. Jasmine said... on Feb 4, 2009 at 09:07AM

“Im very much proud of my mother.... And being a young female i know what to and what not to expect from a man.... Love you mom, & cute flick!!!lol”

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3. Alanna said... on Feb 4, 2009 at 10:30AM

“Is there any way to donate to help Ms. Price save up enough to register as a nonprofit? ”

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4. Liz said... on Feb 4, 2009 at 12:34PM

“This story was very touching and real. I have the pleasure of working with Stephanie and she has helps me everyday in anyway she can. We share a lot of laughs and I can count on her to make my day. I am not only proud of Steph, but inspired to do my job better to help all the "Stephanies" out there. Thank you for having the courage to share your story.”

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5. Mom Goldie said... on Feb 4, 2009 at 02:34PM

“Steph I'm proud of you. You are comming into your own since of who you are. We've always known that you, (are) a leader. God put you in this place and now it's time for you to give back with his help. God will help you , he is able. It broke my heart to hear what you had to go through but , I'm so glad that the lord was there to see you through. We know that he will get the Glory. Continue to do unto others as you would have them do unto you and you will continue to be bless. We have always prayed for you and will continue. I love you.(Smile)”

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6. Michael said... on Feb 4, 2009 at 07:03PM

“A nice article really nice oww child that was nice oww child that was nice iight Ya Boi.”

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7. anon said... on Feb 5, 2009 at 04:05AM

“Is there a way readers can help Ms. Price raise the money for her non-profit registration fees? I would gladly make a donation. ”

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8. tara murtha said... on Feb 5, 2009 at 06:02AM

“Please note, we've added Stephanie's email address above ( because so many readers are asking how they can donate to her project. Please email Stephanie directly to get in touch with her. Other readers are discussing organizing a fundraiser... PW will post that info as we get it. Thanks.”

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9. phillygrrl said... on Feb 5, 2009 at 06:42AM

“Thanks for highlighting this story, PW!”

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10. Alicia said... on Feb 5, 2009 at 07:27AM

“Wonderful story! Thank you women for sharing so that other women can be inspired. I hope our communities will continue to learn more about DV and how we each can help women better their lives.”

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11. lenni_lenape said... on Feb 5, 2009 at 08:26AM

“I have a daughter, and I always wondered what I'd do if she got involved with an abusive, obsessive man. Baseball bats was the only thing I could come up with. I admit to being unfamiliar with the legal options an abused woman has, but it seems the law provides little help. It would seem that the sick abuser would face more consequences for his assaults. Besides being subject to arrest for assault, one should be financial assistance to the woman in trying to get her life back together. Why are abused women "our most vulnerable and neglected citizens?" I'll answer my own question. It's the children who are trapped in these dysfunctional relationships that are the most vulnerable and neglected citizens. ”

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12. Concerned woman said... on Feb 6, 2009 at 03:31PM

“Why are these men not in jail? The women who have suffered abuse should be able to be in their own homes safely with access to the support of social services and financial resurces coming form the local, state and federal governments and from the men that have battered them. This is a very serious problem. What can be done to help, to make things better, and to pervent this type of abuse in the first place?”

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13. tara murtha said... on Feb 8, 2009 at 08:26PM

“Yes. DV effects both women and children. That is clear in the article. ”

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14. The Thrill said... on Feb 16, 2009 at 12:19PM

“This is really well done. Spotlights not only the specifics of an unfortunate situation, but a need for the current administration to do more. ”


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