“Scream quietly or the neighbors will hear.”
When YWCA Dayton launched its Battered Woman Project in 1977, “scream quietly” was the most frequent advice given to women in abusive relationships. But YW knew there was a better solution to keeping women safe.
That year, the FBI reported that intimate partner violence was the USA’s most frequent, yet least reported, crime. Estimates were that women were assaulted five times for each case of abuse reported to the police; a national hospital report stated that 70 percent of assault victims in emergency rooms were women who had been attacked at home. The Dayton Police Department in 1976 received nearly 9,000 family disturbance calls, most involving husband-wife violence – although “wife abuse” was not an official category on police reports, court rosters, or hospital files.
In 1976, YWCA USA added a new public policy issue at its annual convention recognizing the needs of battered women and their children; at the same time, a study by an ad hoc committee of the Ohio Council of YWCAs concluded that “the battering of females by their spouses is a serious and neglected problem. We urge local YWCAs to develop havens for abused women and their children.”
YWCA Dayton’s first domestic violence shelter, opened on July 18, 1977, became one of the first such havens in the country. It was one of the first 25 such shelters to open across the U.S. and the second opened by a YWCA. It remains the only emergency shelter for survivors fleeing abuse in Montgomery County.
While much has changed in the past 43 years — especially our knowledge of and language around intimate-partner violence and trauma-informed care — the mission of YW’s shelter remains steadfast. From our 1977 pamphlet: “It provides a temporary escape from the abusive home, a supportive atmosphere, emergency medical aid, food, and referral to other community agencies offering family counseling, job training, and legal aid. The goal of the program is to help the battered woman become self-reliant.”
Each year, in addition to shelter and crisis hotline services, YWCA Dayton’s domestic violence case managers provide more than 32,000 hours of advocacy, counseling, and supportive services, averaging 35 hours per woman. Services include: crisis intervention; case management; food, clothing and personal care items; housing support; support and educational groups; individual advocacy; goal planning; safety planning; and follow-up and referrals.
In its first five months, YW’s domestic violence shelter provided refuge for 69 women and 84 children. In its first five years, YWCA Dayton’s domestic violence shelter served more than 2,500 women. What started as a one-room facility has since expanded to just under 18,000 square feet that serves an average of 50 women and children at a time and completed its first-ever full renovation in 2019. (And, in 2004, YWCA Dayton assumed operation of the Preble County domestic violence shelter, which is still the only such shelter in that county. It accommodates about 15 women and children at a time.)
Today, YWCA USA is the single largest provider of domestic violence shelters and services in the nation. More than 1 million connections are made with YWCAs annually for sexual assault, domestic violence, and community-based safety services.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing abuse, YWCA Dayton can help. 24/7 Crisis Hotline: 937-222-SAFE.