Apache Junction’s first DV shelter helped hundreds in harm’s way start a new life
By Robin Barker
October is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month—a time to consider what our community is doing about it and what still needs to be done to help victims and prevent further abuses.
It is unfortunate that various levels of crime come with growth in a community, and in the late 1980s, it became apparent that reports of domestic violence (DV) seemed to be on the increase. There were no services or resources for the victims anywhere near Apache Junction at that time. In fact, they had to travel as far as Mesa or Casa Grande, but most had no transportation or the finances to do so.
With many years of experience serving battered women in Nebraska, Ed Barker had already counseled at various shelters and at the State Hospital. During his time counseling at the City Court, he saw so many domestic violence situations that he decided his adopted community needed some kind of a shelter for the victims and their children, as well as a system for quick, close referral.
It sounded easy, but as with all things involving government and people in need, it was trial and error from the very beginning.
First, there was the matter of finding a place for a shelter. The City zoning wasn’t written to accommodate such a thing, and the residents, though very sympathetic, were not having it in their neighborhood.
After what seemed like months, Ed found a duplex that he felt would be perfect. The city folks decided it would be appropriate only if all the neighbors agreed. That made it even more difficult, because the location of a shelter is supposed to be confidential. Ed, being Ed, found a way to gain that support without actually breaking the confidentiality and proceeded to begin raising the money needed to open the doors.
It took time. Domestic violence was, and still is to some extent, considered a private matter to be kept behind closed doors. However, Ed persisted, settled a lease agreement, put the chief of police on the board to make sure local victims would be given a local shelter option and furnished the two bedrooms with “donations” from our home, Goodwill and good-hearted friends.
Our staff consisted of Ed as counselor, our daughter and myself as general help and a few paid employees who never stayed long, because the pay was abysmal, and the job was heartbreaking. Our contacts in the east valley and the local PD were incredible partners, and the community was very supportive of our efforts
During the years of its existence, The Shelter (named for the Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter) housed, counseled, referred and transitioned hundreds of women and children to the beginning of a new life. We were proud to serve them and our community, and we were grateful to have CAAFA take over where we left off.
Shortly after The Shelter closed, the Community Alliance Against Family Abuse (CAAFA) took over the care of DV victims. In 1999, a group of determined volunteers obtained a 501c3 status that has resulted in a first class organization.
The history of CAAFA is one of careful planning. The volunteer-led organization switched to a professionally staffed agency in 2003 and opened its first safe house. In the years since, CAAFA has established a legal advocacy program, a pet therapy program, began offering food boxes, expanded its mission to include sex trafficking, military sexual assault advocacy, prison rape advocacy and opened its doors to all genders.
CAAFA is an advocacy-based and survivor-centered facility, rather than The Shelter’s referral-based philosophy. What that means to its participants is that the focus of the organization, in addition to providing safety, support and outside resources, is offering in-house resource and advocacy options for victims, rather than centering on enforcement of shelter or program rules. That, in turn, allows employees to have a connection with program participants and make efforts to be culturally responsive and understanding.
The organization is the only dual-purpose agency serving both victims of domestic and sexual violence and one of only three emergency shelter service providers in Pinal County. CAAFA is also one of seven domestic violence service providers, three emergency shelter service providers and the only dual-purpose agency offering general sexual assault victim advocacy in eastern Maricopa County.
CAAFA’s service area covers eastern Maricopa and Pinal Counties with a total population of 1,286,715. Using the current census and statistics on domestic and sexual violence, there are roughly 375,292 individuals who will experience domestic violence and 423,050 adults who will experience sexual violence during their lifetimes.
As CAAFA reflects on its 20th anniversary, the need for domestic and sexual violence advocacy services is greater than ever. The organization intends to continue to be both trauma-informed and culturally responsive. They want to increase financial sustainability, continue to adopt innovative practices, assess gaps in service and continuously adjust to reflect the diversity of the community.
Some wonder, why the emphasis on domestic violence? The statistics are staggering. Nationally, 1 in 3 women, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 2 transgender will experience domestic violence during their lifetime. In case you haven’t already figured it out, that’s 33% of women, 25% of men and 50% of transgender. DV is the leading cause of injury to women and the leading cause of death to pregnant women. Sexual violence statistics are even higher, with almost 45% of women and 22% of men experiencing sexual violence during their lives. Unfortunately, this has become a situation of epidemic proportions.
So, now that we know the statistics, where do we go from here? First, everyone needs to be aware that DV exists and is not something that anyone “asks for.” No one “deserves” to be mistreated. Love should not cause bruises, cuts, broken bones or broken psyches. DV needs to come out of the bedroom and into the light of day. Victims need to know that they will be treated with respect and understanding by law enforcement when they call for help, and perpetrators of DV or sexual assault need to know they will be held accountable.