MILWAUKEE (AP) - Domestic abuse shelters, often tucked away in the protective privacy of an obscure neighborhood, have begun moving out of the shadows with more public profiles aimed at generating more community support and better access for victims.
Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Madison is among the latest to make the move, opening a 56-bed shelter on July 30 in a commercial and high-density residential neighborhood on a bus line and close to health and job placement services used by its clients. The shelter has been in a nearly 100-year-old house in a low-profile neighborhood.
DAIS leaders said they consulted with nearly two dozen shelter programs around the country and visited several in Wisconsin before deciding to move. They learned that abusers were more likely to show up at hidden shelters, and workers and clients felt safer and received more community support in visible locations.
“When the community knows where the shelter is, they’re another set of eyes and ears to make sure people are safe,” said Shannon Barry, DAIS executive director.
Many shelters date to the 1970s, when the problem of domestic violence began to gain attention. Advocates sought to create refuges for victims who can face great risk when they separate from their abusers.
“The thinking at the time was really to create a safe space that an abusive partner couldn’t find,” said Patti A. Seger, executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, a Madison-based advocacy organization for victims of domestic abuse. “This is a person who is fleeing danger.”
Many shelters started in houses that blended in with others in residential neighborhoods. They included Wisconsin’s first shelter, Woman and Children’s Horizons, which opened in Kenosha in 1976.
But advocates eventually realized the sense of security provided by a secret location was a bit of an illusion.
“Most shelters wrestle with the reality that over time the community comes to know they are there anyway,” Seger said. “There are many people who transport victims to the shelters - cab drivers, police officers or family members. Over time it often became fairly common knowledge as to the location of the confidential shelter.”