Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Do Not Admit
I worked part-time in domestic violence shelters for eleven years. Over those years, I learned that most shelters operate in much the same way. They have rules set up to keep the women and children safe. First and foremost, the location of the shelter is to remain confidential. Women who stay there cannot tell anyone where the shelter is located. That includes their families, co-workers, and friends.
There are other rules, too, such as a curfew each night when all residents have to be back in the shelter. The rule is for their safety. There are also rules such as no physical fighting, no spanking or physical punishment of children, no alcohol or drugs, and women must keep an eye on their children at all times. Pretty straightforward rules, but rules that are often broken and cause for a woman to be departed from the shelter.
Shelters keep records of those women who have been asked to leave. Sometimes they are allowed back, depending on the seriousness and circumstances of their departure. What most people don't know is that there is also a "Do Not Admit" file, and women in that file are not allowed back to that particular shelter. She may have been physically abusive to the other residents, or have a serious drug problem that she could not control while in the shelter. If a woman in the "Do Not Admit" file calls for readmittance, the shelter manager needs to consider that request on a case-by-case basis. But there is one offense that cannot be overlooked: telling the abuser the location of the shelter. It happens more often than you'd think.
One day when I was in Florida at a trailer park, I met a young woman doing her laundry. She and I made small talk and she asked me where I worked. I told her I worked at a shelter. As it happened, she'd stayed there before. We continued to talk. Then, about 20 minutes later, her boyfriend came by to pick her up. She introduced me and told him that I worked at a shelter. He said, "Oh, the one you stayed at on ___ Street?"
I was floored. He knew exactly where the shelter was. She'd told him. She laughed and smiled at me and said, "He's not like that anymore."
I hoped not. Because now she couldn't stay there anymore. I had to go into work that night and mark her down in the "Do Not Admit" file. I hoped he wouldn't hurt her again, because now she didn't have a safe place to turn without travelling to another part of the state.
Domestic violence is such a complicated issue. It's unfortunate to think that any woman would not be able to get the help she needs in a time of crisis. But the rules are there for their safety and the one line a woman absolutely cannot cross is revealing the location of the shelter. That mistake can close what would otherwise be an open door.