The first time I remember my step-father hitting my mother, I was 4 years old and she was pregnant with my younger brother. We were in our beat-up, vintage Cadillac. He was driving recklessly, and her blood spattered and stained the upholstery.
For the next three years, my baby brother and I experienced a constant cycle of abuse, escape, and, ultimately, returning to him. At the time, I couldn’t understand why my mother would go back to someone who had hit her in the face when she was pregnant, had held a gun to her head in front of us, and who committed countless other horrible things.
However, as an adult and as the CEO of SAFE Shelter Center for Domestic Violence Services, I now know my mother did not have access to the resources domestic violence victims so desperately need, such as emergency shelter, food, transportation, help with childcare, and legal advocacy, among others. SAFE Shelter provides these solutions — and more — to prevent victims from returning to their abusers, promote self-sufficiency, and stop the cycle of violence.
Did you know domestic violence is prevalent in every community and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or nationality? In the U.S., an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute, equating to 10 million abuse victims annually. In 2017, Georgia had the 10th highest rate in the U.S of women murdered by men. In Savannah, 4,107 domestic disturbance calls were received by the Savannah- Chatham Metropolitan Police Department last year alone.
When you consider the numbers, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The problem is pervasive and pernicious and, if we let it, can be paralyzing. Sometimes I think, “What can one person do?”
But then I remember meeting one of the original four founders of SAFE Shelter. Now in her 90s, she told me she saw “Battered,” a 1978 TV movie that told the stories of three women of various backgrounds and ages who all were victims of domestic violence. The following year, she and three friends opened SAFE Shelter, Savannah’s only shelter dedicated to victims of intimate partner violence and their underage children and now the second largest shelter of its kind in the state.
Now, consider these numbers. In 2022, SAFE Shelter served 1,883 victims of domestic violence, including 496 children. We provided 65,000 meals. We answered 1,500 crisis calls, helped our clients receive 357 temporary protective orders, and made 704 court appearances.
And it all started with one woman.
So, if you’re wondering what you can do to help, start by learning more about domestic violence, acknowledging survivors, and being a voice for victims. During October — National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — SAFE Shelter will be hosting several events to do just that, including a candlelight vigil in Forsyth Park (Oct. 5), “Twilight at the Thompson,” the organization’s signature fundraising event (Oct. 13), and “#Every1KnowsSome1,” a domestic violence awareness conference (Oct. 26).
The legendary singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, when performing the gospel standard “This Little Light of Mine,” tells the audience that we all have little lights but if we put them all together, can make one great big light. Won’t you help SAFE Shelter be the light in this community?
Shannon Bates is the Chief Executive Officer of SAFE Shelter, Savannah’s only shelter dedicated to victims of intimate partner violence and their underage children and now the second largest shelter of its kind in the state. To learn more, visit safeshelter.org.