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Shelter Spiel

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To the editors:

While we can appreciate some of the general points writer Steve Bogira was attempting to make in his Feb. 17 story, "The Press: Beautiful Women," we must take exception to the commentary and implications concerning battered women's shelters.

Contrary to the impression left by the story, shelters are not run by and set up for "beautiful" rich people. Shelters exist because many women--and their children--literally have no place else to go. To stay in their own homes can literally cost them their lives, yet many women do not have access to any financial resources that would allow them to support themselves and their children.

Nor is family violence isolated among some small segment of society. It affects women of all racial, economic, religious and social groups. The FBI estimates that a woman is beaten every 18 seconds in this country. One half of all married women will be beaten at least once by their husbands. Every day 11 women are killed by their male partners and abuse is the leading cause of injury to women as well. Children also pay a price. In homes where wife beating occurs, child abuse is often present. And without treatment, many children of violent homes will grow up to be abused or abusing adults.

Perhaps most dismaying in Bogira's article is the offhanded comment, "Gots me a piece inna night stan' too." This is hardly a solution to the problem. One study done earlier in the decade showed that two-thirds of women facing homicide charges in Cook County jail were accused of having murdered their abusers. Had more shelters been available, had more women known about and been encouraged to seek the help they needed, had the press done a better job of addressing this serious and widespread issue, many of these women might have found a safer and happier way out of their dilemma instead of a jail cell or, worse yet, a grave.

Currently there are only six shelters for battered women in the city of Chicago. Each day those six shelters must turn away five women each because there simply is not enough room for them. And Chicago is far from the exception. The story is repeated with numbing regularity throughout the state and the nation.

Rainbow House and the other shelters in the area are committed to serving all women and many of the women served come from poor and minority communities. Shelters like Rainbow House also have a largely black and Hispanic staff to work with and support clients.

Finally, it should be noted that funding for such programs is hardly the result of fancy lady power lunches. Shelters provide free services and housing. They do not charge for their services. They remain among the most underfunded of the social services and studies from around the country also show that because of poor funding, pay and benefits are generally low. In Illinois alone, about one-quarter of all shelters have at least some full-time staff so poorly paid they are eligible for some form of public assistance.

None of this paints a very beautiful picture. But the dedicated women who have worked hard to provide shelter and support services and the many women and children who have used them to create safe, happy lives for themselves certainly are. They deserve better treatment than the flippant and ugly portrait painted in Bogira's article.

Margaret Ann Jozsa

Executive Director

Rainbow House

PS: And many of us shelter directors live in the same community that we serve . . . Chicago.

Steve Bogira replies:

We need desperately to enlighten people about domestic violence. So I'm glad you got your spiel in, even if you had to distort what I wrote to do so.

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