The University Record, October 5, 1992

Domestic Violence Project helps change attitudes about abuse

By Mary Jo Frank

Horrified, the 10-year old girl watched her father attack her mother with a claw hammer. She quickly called 911, and police interrupted the assault.

“She really saved her mother’s life,” says Susan McGee, executive director of the Domestic Violence Project/Safe House.

The little girl had learned about calling 911 at Kids Club, an out-of-shelter counseling program for children ages 6–12 served by the Domestic Violence Project. Kids Club groups are led by U-M students who are supervised by Sandra A. Bermann, assistant professor of psychology.

It is one of the many ways U-M faculty, staff and students support the Domestic Violence Project and Safe House, its residential program for battered women and their children.

The Domestic Violence Project, a United Way agency since 1980, receives 28 percent of its budget from United Way.

Last year, in addition to its United Way allocation, the Domestic Violence Project received $14,000 in designated gifts. Because agencies don’t receive names of donors who designate their United Way contributions, McGee says “we are never able to say thank you, but we are very grateful for the donations.”

In addition to paying for food and shelter for nearly 280 families served annually by Safe House, United Way funds last year helped purchase a 15-passenger van to transport Safe House residents to court and doctor appointments, the store, apartment hunting and to enroll children in school.

The Domestic Violence Project is run by a 15-member board elected from the community, many with ties to the University.

Beth G. Reed, associate professor of social work and of women’s studies and a former board president, says the Domestic Violence Project/Safe House “is the only resource a lot of women have who don’t see themselves as having other options and who are trying to protect their children.

“They are doing superb work to change attitudes and practices that allow violence to continue. It used to be the preferred practice was for police to mediate disputes. This sanctioned violence. Arresting the perpetrator makes a clear societal statement that this violence is a crime. Nothing wakes someone up like spending five or six hours in jail,” Reed observes.

Susan W. Kaufmann, associate director of the Center for the Education of Women and a Domestic Violence Project board member, says: “As the former director of the Assault Crisis Center, I am very aware of how pervasive violence against women and children is in all sectors of our community.

“The Domestic Violence Project makes amazing use of always-scarce resources, frugally managing a very modest budget to support an incredible array of programs and enlisting the assistance of hundreds of volunteers each year.”

About 35 percent of the Domestic Violence Project’s more than 370 volunteers are affiliated with the U-M. They include:

—Law students, working under supervision, represent women in custody, divorce and battering cases.

—Business students in the Global Citizenship Program help maintain the Safe House building and grounds.

—Students in the Women’s Studies Program and Project Outreach work as interns at the Domestic Violence Project office and Safe House for academic credit.

—Work-study students staff the Domestic Violence Project office.

—Many departments collect gifts, including toys for the children and personal hygiene items for women who, in most cases, come with nothing to Safe House.

Social work Prof. Sallie R. Churchill was first drawn to the Domestic Violence Project through her students and later served as board president. She says Safe House “has helped the community realize it is not okay to hurt people. Women and children no longer have to stay and take it.”

Churchill says she prefers to donate through United Way because “there are so many demands for me to support different organizations. I don’t have any way of deciding. With United Way, citizens make decisions about how to allocate funds with a clear knowledge of the needs.

“Also, the low overhead costs lead me to believe that a higher percentage of my dollar goes to services rather than publicity.”