Battered women in Rutland found their first safe haven from abuse in 1979 when the doors first opened at the old jail on Center Street. A quarter of a century later, domestic abuse hasn’t ended and neither have the efforts of the shelter, which helps thousands of women each year start rebuilding their lives. Before the shelter opened, women attempting to leave abusive relationships had to search out one of a few “safe houses” in the community where residents were willing to take them in. The system of safe houses was helpful, but they were temporary-sometimes sheltering women for only a few days. It took a group of women who had been abused to make the idea of a shelter a reality. There were so many women uniting and finding each other who realized that they needed to help themselves and other women. When the doors finally opened at the shelter in Rutland, it was easy to see how overdue the facility was; we had three or four women in their 70s who were waiting for the shelter to open because they needed somewhere to be safe. Some of those women had been in abusive relationships for 50 years. But they didn’t have anywhere to go.
Even after the shelter opened there were challenges for battered women and the shelter. One of the biggest obstacles then, and in some cases today, was overcoming misconceptions about how the shelter operates. We still hear from many women who delay visiting the shelter because they fear they will be reported to the police or forced to stay. That’s not the case at all, we listen and tell people what they can do but that’s it. We want them to have choices. Some women think that they could not come here unless they were black and blue, but there are many kinds of abuse and it’s not all physical. Often, the abuse is psychological; abusers seek to control a woman’s every action by isolating her from friends and family and making her dependent. Which is why giving an abused woman choices is the first step toward empowering her and helping her out of an abusive relationship. That philosophy has remained true over the years in which the group’s facility and ways of reaching women have changed.
The conditions in the shelter have improved immeasurably; the year after the shelter was in the jail it moved into a house with the capacity of 24 beds. Over the years, thousands of women and their children have stayed at the shelter. The organization’s eight staff members and 40 volunteers work with the courts, the office of economic opportunity and the police to protect survivors from their abusers. The group also networks with human service agencies around the county to help battered women with everything from housing to day care.