By Alison Bailin Batz
Each October, the United States observes National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. An epidemic in the nation, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
• On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
• 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner-contact sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking.
• 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
• 1 in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner.
To address the unmet needs of Maricopa County survivors of domestic violence and their children who are residing outside of a shelter setting, Jewish Family & Children’s Service founded Shelter Without Walls in 1998.
At the time, it was the first nonresidential domestic violence program in Maricopa County (and one of the first in the nation) to offer comprehensive services to victims who were not in a shelter setting.
“JFCS’ Shelter Without Walls program is focused on helping those domestic violence survivors who have yet to separate from the abusive partner but want to live independently and need assistance to do so safely,” says Linda Scott, vice president of Child & Family Solutions at JFCS.
“The program also targets survivors transitioning out of local shelters and those living independently from their abusive partners but who are disconnected from services and struggling to remain independent.”
Given the program is run through a nonprofit, Shelter Without Walls would not be able to operate without community support. Enter Dr. Herschel Richter and his wife, Valerie.
“We moved to this community in 1965. We raised our children here; we made our life here,” says Herschel, who served for many years as a cardiologist across the Valley, including as chief of cardiology at Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, before retiring in 2007.
“While we are very blessed that domestic violence has never directly touched our family, it is hard not to think of my own two daughters when I think of the women in need of services from JFCS’ Shelter Without Walls.”
In a show of support for those providing service through the program, and to lend a hand to lift up survivors working through the program, the Richters made the decision on a sizeable investment in it in recent months, ensuring Shelter Without Walls would not just survive, but thrive, despite COVID-19.
“COVID-19 actually helped us make the decision to donate,” Valerie says. “During the first couple of months of the pandemic, the organization didn’t see a lot of requests for help. But that doesn’t mean that incidents of domestic abuse decreased. In fact, initial indicators showed just the opposite.”
When the Richters learned victims were hunkered down or back in violent situations due to the pandemic, they knew action was required to provide active support to them as they make their way to safety these months later.
“Shelter Without Walls works closely for more than a year — or as long as it takes — with participants to ensure their safety and ability to provide for themselves and their children while maintaining their independence and self-respect,” Herschel says. “The goal of staff and supporters is that women and children get safe and stay safe.”
This comprehensive case management, according to Herschel, focuses on whatever each individual needs to do this.
“When victims decide to leave their abusers, they need safe, affordable housing. They need food, clothing and cleaning supplies,” Scott says. “They also need mental health support, as we’re finding that COVID-related isolation — even for those in safe shelter settings — has triggered feelings of the same isolation inflicted by their abuser.”
According to Scott, intimate partner violence is not always easy to recognize, because it is often about controlling someone’s mind and emotions as much as hurting their body. The signs may not be as obvious as a bruise, but it’s important to be aware of what some of the indicators might be. Even for those living in an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to recognize that what they are experiencing is abuse. Some common warning signs of abuse may include:
• Unpredictability (loving one minute and mean the next).
• Cruelty to animals.
• Verbal abuse.
• Extremely controlling behavior.
• Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships.
• Forced sex or disregard of their partner’s unwillingness to have sex or to engage in certain sex acts.
• Blaming the victim for anything bad that happens, including the abuse.
• Sabotage or obstruction of the victim’s ability to work or attend school.
• Controlling all finances.
• Controlling what victim wears and how they act.
• Embarrassment or humiliation of the victim in front of others.
“We worked very hard for many years to ensure our family was in a good position,” Valerie says. “When we sat down years ago and decided to make the concerted effort to financially support causes, we did it and continue to do it to lift others up — especially anyone going through the violence Linda has noted — and help them into a better long-term position.”
According to Scott, this is not the Richters’ first time coming to the rescue when a program was in need.
“Within our organization, their generosity has been tremendous,” says Scott, adding the couple was instrumental in the funding of JFCS’ Real World Job Development program.
The program primarily supports young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 who need help preparing for the future as they transition out of foster care, among many others. Their commitment to JFCS’ mission extends even beyond the Shelter Without Walls program. In 2019, the Richters made another major investment in JFCS in support of our new East Valley Healthcare Center in Gilbert.
To learn more, or to get involved, visit: jfcsaz.org.