Webster County victim assistance center hopes to build much-needed domestic violence shelter

Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 8:36 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 5, 2022 at 8:57 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - For the last 23 years, the Safe Harbor Victim Assistance Program in Marshfield has helped Webster County victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elderly abuse with everything from food and clothing to protection orders and navigating the court system.

But DeAnne Rader, the Director of Safe Harbor, points out that there’s one big thing missing in what her program can offer.

A safe shelter for people trying to escape domestic violence situations.

“Springfield has Harmony House, Lebanon has Cope, and Bolivar has House of Hope,” Raider said. “In Webster County, there’s nothing. And it would be ridiculous to ask everybody in our area to drive to Springfield, Lebanon, or Bolivar. Sometimes those shelters are full as well, so there’s really no place for them to go.”

“We can’t just say to them we have no room and send them to another county,” added Safe Harbor board member Lisa Saylor. “Because often there are children involved and they are in our schools. They’ve already been forced out of their homes and had a front-row seat to abuse. That really affects them, so if we can keep them in the same school, that’s one pillar of stability they really need.”

Saylor is familiar with those challenges because she’s a fierce, determined victims’ advocate who’s helped change statewide legislation, and she also sits on the Safe Harbor board. But she’s also a mother of three and domestic violence survivor. She’s still dealing with an ex-husband who’s been in and out of prison and continues to harass her.

“I have been to court 73 times to face my abuser,” she said.

Saylor has been dealing with her domestic violence issues for 11 years.

“It gets frustrating, but you are taking your life back when you walk away from that abusive situation,” she explained. “I left him in July 2011, and that day set off a chain of events that ended with him putting 300 gallons of gas from our propane tank into our home in an attempt to take his own life.”

Saylor pointed out that domestic violence victims come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and shouldn’t be judged harshly.

“We are your mother or your sister,” she said. “We’re sitting next to you in your cubicle at work or church. We hide it well. That’s how we have survived. Our home is on fire, and we are trying to control the burn inside of it. But sometimes, that fire of abuse is so great that we can no longer contain it, and we’re forced to make decisions that we don’t want to make. Most people think that as a victim, we are stupid, stubborn, and slow. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But it’s not fair for a mom to be able to walk away from a domestic violence situation and her children have to go back to it every other weekend. So when you see a mom going back a million times, give her a break. She’s frustrated because her kids don’t necessarily get to walk away. And oftentimes, we have defended our abusers’ behavior so much that we are their best defenders in public or court.”

The only safe places Safe Harbor can offer are two homes at undisclosed locations with no supervision or staff.

“Because of that, we can only house one victim at a time plus their children, so that really limits us,” Rader said. “Every day, we get calls from people needing shelter, and we’re full. One day I had a lady call and tell me she was trying to escape a domestic violence situation, so she was staying with an aunt and uncle. That was fine and good until the aunt left and the uncle sexually assaulted her.”

It is those kinds of horror stories that are pushing the desire to build a domestic violence shelter.

“We have a plan for a shelter that would hold 35 people maximum,” Rader explained. “One wing would be for single ladies and the other wing for ladies with children. There would be a courtyard and play area along with a kitchen and laundry facility. We’d also have rooms for counseling, group sessions, parenting classes, just all the things that people are going to need to make a change in their lives.”

Rader estimates that the shelter would cost $3 million to $4 million, and while some of that money would come from federal grants, Safe Harbor must first come up with the funding to buy about 5-10 acres of land at a cost between $50-100,000.

“There are no grants available for you to use the money to buy land,” she said. “So that’s our first step, and the land must come from public support.”

And that public support comes from selling raffle tickets to give away a 2022 Dodge Challenger SXT. The tickets are available at safeharbormo.org for $25, and the drawing for the winner will be held on October 22 at another fundraiser, Oktoberfest, a fall festival at the Webster County Fairgrounds.

Another factor spurring the need for a shelter is the increase in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the problem is getting worse across the country.

“One in four women is a victim of domestic violence,” Rader said. “But the statistic that stands out to me is that when it comes to children involved in these situations, one-out-of-three of those kids will grow up to be either in an abusive situation or will grow up to be an abuser.”

“Broken kids lead to broken adults,” added Saylor. “So if you want to address this and start fixing it, then we need the community to step up and help build this bridge.”

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