By: Tracy M. Fitzgerald
Photographer: Photo Courtesy of the House of Ruth
The statistics are simply staggering: research consistently shows that one in every four women will be in a physically abusive relationship in her lifetime. Of the 35,000 individuals who took part in the survey conducted by the CDC, 89% of the women interviewed, claimed to have been subject to verbal abuse.
Recognizing that women in dangerous or even life-threatening situations sometimes have no place or person to turn to, the House of Ruth was founded in 1977 to provide a “safe haven” for victims of domestic violence. What started at that time as a small shelter staffed by one, has evolved and grown ten-fold. Today, the Baltimore-based organization is recognized as one of the nation’s leading domestic violence centers, providing a comprehensive line of services and support to women and children who want and need a place to go, or perhaps a helping hand as they strive for a fresh start.
“We are known for our emergency shelter services but this is just one piece of what we do,” said Sandi Timmins, Executive Director of the House of Ruth. “We help women who can’t go home find transitional housing or apartments, and provide resources and support to help them become independent over time. We also manage a legal clinic, staffed by 20 local attorneys who work pro bono to help women obtain protective or peace orders, as well as a team of counselors and therapists, who work with moms and their children who have endured trauma.”
While they may not come with any visible scars or bruises, women who suffer verbal and emotional abuse are also able to take advantage of the full spectrum of services offered by the House of Ruth. According to Ellyn Loy, Director of Clinical Services, this kind of abuse can range from yelling and screaming, to intentional manipulation and diminishment of someone’s feelings, with the abuser’s need for control being a key factor.
“The abuser will try to control the victim by attacking their self-esteem, isolating them or threatening them,” said Loy. “In many cases the abuser will deny that he is being verbally or emotionally abusive, and this makes it harder for the victim to find her reality.”
In 2012, Timmins, Loy and their team of 120 staff members and over 300 local volunteers provided support and services to approximately 15,000 women and children. Day-to-day operations rely heavily on grant funding, private monetary and in-kind donations, and proceeds from annual fundraisers. Funds that are generated through these efforts help assure that House of Ruth facilities can be maintained and that programs can be continuously implemented and supported, as the need for support continues to rise.
“If a woman is on a path to leaving, on average she will come and go seven times before she will make it permanent,” Timmins said. “Our role is never to tell her what to do, but instead to provide her with information, acknowledge her choices and make sure she knows we are here for her.”
Women who are seeking support are not the only people the House of Ruth is working hard to educate. Raising community awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence and teaching people how to identify the signs that can indicate someone else is in trouble, is another priority for Timmins and her staff. Often, what is happening in the workplace can be a key indicator.
“You have to remember that both victims and abusers are often employed,” Timmins explained. “We have a program called ‘When Intimate Partner Violence Comes to Work’ and the goal is to meet with human resources teams, managers and supervisors, to help them understand what do to, when they are working with someone who may need help.”
To learn more about the House of Ruth’s workplace education program, or for a schedule of upcoming fundraising events that you can attend, which will support the organization’s mission, please visit www.hruth.org.