Women in Loudoun County who are victims of domestic violence will soon have a refuge, according to the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter, a small, private, nonprofit organization.
The group plans to open the first shelter for battered women in the county within three months if arrangements can be made to rent a house north of Leesburg, said member Sandy Scafidi of Lovettsville.
Social workers, deputy sheriffs and others have said for years that the county has needed such a shelter. But efforts to obtain state or local funding to establish one have been unsuccessful.
"In 1983, I had submitted from this office a state grant application for a shelter, but it was not funded," said Joan Linhardt, director of the Loudoun County Department of Social Services.
"We thought there was a need. I don't think there is any question about the fact that there's a need," Linhardt said.
Loudoun County Sheriff John Isom, one of 11 on the shelter's board of directors, said an average of two women a week need shelter from home situations that include not only beating but also "mental abuse, locking them out of the house, and sexual abuse."
Currently, Isom said, battered women in need of short-term shelter can be referred to the Victim Witness Program, run by the county to protect the rights of victims and witnesses of crime. The program director, Irene Wodell, frequently arranges for battered women to stay briefly in a motel or hotel, in one of several private homes, or in a shelter in a neighboring county.
But if the women need shelter for a longer term, "they're basically out of luck," Isom said. "This shelter will fill the gap."
It will do so without any county funds, said group members. They plan to seek no financial assistance from the county government.
The group has received two private grants amounting to $3,500, plus donations from local churches, business organizations and residents. Additional grant applications and a countywide fund-raising effort are planned. Also, area psychiatrists, attorneys and other professionals have volunteered their services.
The shelter will have room for six women and their young children, and it will provide transportation, offer counseling through the Department of Social Services and the Loudoun County Mental Health Center, and provide moral support.
The location will be kept confidential to protect the women, their children and the staff.
Group member Pat Cassidy of Lovettsville says she and others, including Scafidi and Purcellville resident Carmen Howell, had started a social action group early this year and chose the women's shelter right away as their first project. "We found out that Loudoun County is just like any other area," she said. "There is domestic violence, and just because there's no specific program to address the problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
"There are not statistics kept on a lot of this . . . but Irene Wodell of Victim Witness had some figures for us, something like 243 domestic violence cases last year, so what we decided we could do as a private group was establish a shelter," Cassidy said. "Obviously there's no money for the county to do it, so that's why we're doing it."
The organization has both men and women as members. "It's not a women's group," Cassidy said, just as spouse abuse "is not a women's problem. It's a community problem."