The Prince George's County Commission for Women recommended last week that a shelter and supportive services be established in the county for abused women.
The action came after two and one-half hours of public testimony by individuals and representatives of civic groups and state and county agencies. The commission also set up a committee to prepare a detailed proposal for a detailed proposal for the County Council.
The proposal will cover the cost and location of a shelter, the services to be offered, and possible funding sources, said Patricia Fenn, commission chairwoman.
The commission's public forum was held after its Task Force on Wife Abuse concluded an 18-month study of battered women in Prince George's County.
Members of the Task Force interviewed representatives from 25 agencies and compiled statistics from county police departments before making their recommendations to the commission.
Although their report was not released to the public, sources said the Task Force did not recommend a shelter. Instead, it called for more coodinated action in the Department of Social Services.
Currently the Department of Social Services provides staff for a crisis line and can offer emergency assistance for women seeking help. The agency will also provide overnight motel accommodations and counseling.
At least five women & a day seek help in Prince George's, said Fenn. The statistics, she said, come from police, hospitals, hot lines, court officials and the alcohol abuse center.
Katherine Foss, public relations officer for the Department of Social Services, testified that the agency has been authorized to provide overnight shelter to anyone needing help regardless of economic background.
one of the first problems confronting many battered women is how to face themselves, said Elizabeth Farrell, program director for battered women at the House of Ruth, a Northwest Washington shelter. She testified that women are truly unsure that the beatings are wrong. They are taught they have to please their husbands. Someone has to teach them it is the man's problem, not the woman's."
Nancy Hall, a psychiatric nurse in the Sexual Assault Center, added, "Usually wives come from violent families where they developed a feeling that they are bad and need the punishment they've been given all their lives. They generally seek out husbands or men who will continue in this violent pattern."
For these women, psychiatirc counseling becomes as important as the need for a safe shelter. They need the support that will enable them to pross charges and testify against their husbands, to seek employment or housing, to break away from dependencies they've formed on their husbands.
Dariene Perry, a Prince George's County lawyer who has handled a number of complaints by abused wives, told the commission a story she witnessed in Prince George's District Court.
"The wife had sworn out a warrant for wife abuse and her husband had an additional warrant out on him for child abuse. The two (mother and child) came to court and they were so afraid they couldn't even get their names out when the judge asked. The charges were dropped and they left with the man. He was laughing at them."
One abused wife recalled in her testimony some of the problems she had when she left her home. They are typical of those faced by many other women seeking a way out.
"I left my house after 12 years of so-called marriage because my husband tried to kill me. I had lived with physical violence for 10 years and I had no relatives, no place to go. I don't know what would have happened to me if I didn't have friends."
The neatly dressed, middle-aged woman said she left her home in Silver Spring after yet another threat on her life. The police escorted her out of the house and into her car. After that, police told her, she was on her own.
Margaret Reilly of the Housing Authority discussed the forms of housing available through her agency, which includes limited public housing for the elderly and families. But she noted that the abused wife is often in a grey area because she needs immediate relief and permanent housing. To comply with government regulations, the woman would have to provide legal proof of a divorce or separation (which necessitates a separate address for one year), and would have to have more than one dependent child living with her.
The commission will hear the findings and proposals of its committee at a work session on Jan. 27 at 9171 Central Ave., Capitol Heights.
Women in need of emergency overnight shelter in Prince George's county were advised to first call a police officer, who will call the Department of Social Services Crisis Line at 699-8605. Counseling and information are available during the day by calling 927-6860 or 927-4600, ext. 436