Why is This Domestic Violence Shelter Abusing Women?
January 1, 2011
My name is Barbara Rhyne-Tucker and I writing to you to make you aware of the abusive treatment that is considered “necessary” at Newhouse [in Kansas City, MO]. I have been a “guest” on two separate occasions and have been sickened by the way the upper-management abuses the women who come there to seek safety. It appears to me that these women are further victimized for being victims….
I would like to first make it clear that I myself had no real issues there and was able to maintain a friendly relationship with all the staff and upper management. There are three reasons for this.
The first and most important; is that I have done prison time and Newhouse is run like a prison, with the staff and management having the same sort of mental attitude as prison guards. In prison you are called “offender” and are treated as one. You must “do your time” of punishment to gain re-entrance into society. This is the attitude at Newhouse. The women are considered criminals and are treated as just that. They are to be punished and punished they are! I recognized this unfortunate attitude when I first arrived, so I was able to adapt to the hostile environment quickly because of my past experiences. The second reason; is that I was not in the Newhouse program; I was in a separate program that uses a room at Newhouse and was able to move about without too much contact with their staff. The third being; I am educated and older with a professional work history and know how to maneuver in competitive corporate settings and am adept at spotting potentially detrimental situations and am able to avoid them all together. I understand power plays and the corporate mentality of “company first…. people second”.
I will never forget the things I saw at Newhouse. The blatant misuse and abuse of power still haunts me to this day. All incidences here I observed firsthand:
Xxxx and her mother: I greeted them upon their entrance because I know this little family from another shelter. Xxxx’s mother is poor, uneducated and severely troubled. She suffered abuse from both her father and mother, and then true to the patterns set for her, she sought abusive men. Xxxx is a four year old little girl, bright, beautiful and loving. She is very outgoing and intelligent. When she and her battered, war torn young mother arrived at Newhouse I was shocked to see Xxxx in a tiny wheel chair. When I ask Xxxx’s mom what happened, she told me Xxxx had climbed into a car and hit the gear shift. The car began to roll down the hill and Xxxx fell out and was run over. I inspected the huge fresh scars that Xxxx proudly displayed for me on her legs, stomach and head. We sat together at dinner and the mother told me how she was determined to secure a safe and happy life for herself and for Xxxx.
The next day we were out in the play area and Xxxx wanted to swing, so I took her from her petite wheelchair and placed her in a safety swing and we began to laugh and talk. Xxxx told me, in her child words, of her accident and of her time at the hospital. She spoke with love and wonder of the nurses and doctors who were so kind and loving to her and her mother. I know this sounds strange, but all the love that came to Xxxx and her mother came because of the accident, which caused both mother and daughter to bloom. She commanded me to push her higher and higher…she laughed again and said “Ms Barbara, when I was at the hospital the nurses told me I am a brave little girl! Am I brave little girl?” “Yes, Xxxx” I replied “You are indeed a brave little girl” and with that she sang out over and over “I AM A BRAVE LITTLE GIRL! I AM A BRAVE LITTLE GIRL!” as if that was the best thing a girl could ever be. It was the highest honor to her. I was deeply touched and so were many other women standing around. This was evident by the tears in their eyes. As I carried her back to her mother, I whispered in her ear “All of us here Xxxx, are brave little girls”. She nodded knowingly and laid her scarred, shaved little head on my shoulder. Xxxx walked for the first time in many months that day. She rose up and took those first tentative steps out there on the playground. The truth of her pain was evident on her face, but she kept going, moving with silent determination towards my outstretched arms and laughing triumphantly when I swept her up and we danced to the cheering of the other women and children. Xxxx walked for the first time in many months at Newhouse that day. Just two days later, she was wheeled out the front door by her defeated mother because they had been “exited”. This miracle child filled with hope and love, just a couple of days before, was scared, pale and crying. Every woman and child watched in fearful, defeated horror as these two had no choice other than to leave with one of the many abusers in their lives. Let me explain how this came to be.
Earlier that day, Xxxx’s mother came up to me crying and said she was being thrown out for being rude. She said she was having a really bad day and snapped out verbally at a staff member. No cussing, just a “leave me alone” sort of defense that we all go through. The struggling mother and our beautiful Xxxx were exited immediately, no dinner, no time, just pack your things and get out. She felt she had no choice but to call her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend and he picked her up. She did not want to take Xxxx out on the street in her wheelchair, still healing and in some pain. I wish you could have seen the terror on each woman’s and child’s face as they sat in the dining area and watched Xxxx and her mother leave, like criminals condemned to death, and I cried when they loaded Xxxx into the car. Her last words to me as her mother pushed her past me were, “Ms Barbara, they are throwing us out! Why? I’ve been good! Why? I don’t wanna’ go! They’re throwing us out! “THEY DON’T WANT US ANYMORE! THEY DON’T WANT US ANYMORE!” Her pale little face was confused and terrified. Her tear filled eyes were looking up at me for help and I could do nothing but stand there as helpless as they. I said to myself, as the car that held them captive once again pulled away, music blaring and the young mother looking angrily out the window at us “You are a brave little girl Xxxx, we all are”. I am crying even as I write this. I saw Xxxx and her mother downtown, about a week later, Xxxx still in the chair…I watched from afar as they huddled close together, alone, watchful and scared. I hid from their sight, then ran away. I never even said hello. I was too ashamed of having no way to help them. To this day I have never seen them again and I often wonder what has become of that beautiful little family?
Ellen: Ellen is an older woman, a senior, with a long history of mental illness. She has been homeless countless times in numerous cities. She cannot recall much of her “street days” because; it is my belief that it is a direct result of her mental illness, which is episodic in nature. I was a witness and party to Ellen becoming homeless again under the spell of a terrifying psychotic episode. Ellen was normally quiet and stayed to herself. I made a point to befriend her so she would not feel so alone. She finally began to sit with me at meals. She was intelligent, soft spoken and polite. I first began to notice a change in her when I went to smoke a cigarette early one morning and Ellen was there and told me she had not slept all night. She was talking loudly and rapidly and was very animated. She started to tell me she had a dream that I was to become a famous author and would own a huge business. I just let her talk and went back inside but was concerned in her complete change in personality. Later that day several women came to me and asked me if I had noticed a change in Ellen and I replied that they should talk to staff. Later that afternoon I was in Xxx’s office telling her of my concern for Ellen and she walked in and began to talk about how terrific she felt and how “all the colors where brighter”. She was even more animated than before and her thoughts where strange and nonsensical. When Ellen left I spoke with Xxx further about the matter. I took Ellen with me to Swope Clinic later that day and she saw a doctor. She did not want to share with me the outcome so I let it go and at dinner she refused to eat and retired to her room. Later that night, I found her talking to herself in the smoking area. She had become combative and hostile towards everyone, showing signs of paranoia. I went to the staff the next morning and spoke with them about her. I don’t know exactly what happened to Ellen but this is what I heard. When she was asked if she would go to a doctor she refused so she was set out on the street. Here is what I want to say about this. The woman was delusional, unable to distinguish reality from fantasy at this point. How can she make a “decision” to see a doctor? And when she refused, how can someone place a person in full psychosis out onto the street? There was no way Ellen could have taken care of herself or made correct decisions on what to do next. The neighborhood in which Newhouse sits is extremely dangerous. I want to know what happened to Ellen.
Lane: My friend Lane was 47, a survivor of Katrina, a recovered addict and I loved her deeply. Her little boy was 6 years old when she came to Newhouse. Both mother and son had extremely complex issues but Lane was determined to “get it right”. I have rarely seen a mother so devoted not only to her son but also to herself and their future as a family. Lane and I became very close, very fast. I enjoyed immensely her company and the company of her little boy. My friend strove to follow all the complex and rigid rules at Newhouse. She was open and honest in group and looked forward to therapy sessions. She was excited about the changes taking place in her. For the first time she felt “almost” secure. She sat on a board at Newhouse, in which the ladies came up with new ideas and projects to implement at Newhouse. I sat with Lane and the board one night, on their invitation, and was moved by how much confidence and joy it gave the women to be creative and a part of something larger than themselves. It removed them from the horrors of their lives and allowed them to be creative and free in both their thoughts and expression of themselves. They organized their ideas and felt ready for the next day. I was impressed.
The next day at the meeting Lane, being the spokesperson, began to list their ideas proudly, and I watched as Munsey shot them down one by one. Munsey was rude and condescending and I saw Lane grow more defeated as each gem, each idea was mercilessly destroyed. I watched Lane become publically humiliated. I watched Lane suffer abuse from the hands of the staff that was there to protect her. I became so angry I had to leave the center that day and calm down before I returned. After that meeting the attitude of the staff toward Lane began to shift. She could nothing right. Every little slip, real or imagined, was amplified and she began to fear she would be exited. While all this was going on and Lane was becoming more and insecure Xxxx, her son, began to act out more and more in reaction to the stress of his mother and the decision was made to send the little boy to Spoffard, a child’s psychiatric hospital to live. Lane was devastated at the prospect of being separated from him but bravely moved forward as an effort to please the staff and gain some sense of security for herself again.
Here is how and why Lane was exited. One morning a new girl walked up and began to talk to me. She was young, black, and wore a hoodie with the hood pulled up so one could not see her face. She seemed nervous, high and sinister. After a few minutes, I noticed that her clothes were “street” and she was very dirty. I wondered to myself why this girl had not cleaned up yet. I continued to visit with her and then I became more and more aware that something was not right with this girl. I suspected mental illness coupled with being high. How has no one noticed? I left for the day and when I returned the girl was gone. I was relieved because frankly she scared me. She never pulled down her hood nor showed her face to me. The whole scene was weird and I just figured the staff had taken care of it. Later that evening, I heard that a girl had snuck into Newhouse and was there for sometime before it was noticed. This frightened me because we are supposed to be secure there. How can a person sneak into a domestic violence shelter and go unnoticed for a day or more? Lane had encountered the girl while I was gone and this is what Lane told me. The hoodie girl had approached her and asked if she knew Nikki, and Lane did, but did not comment. Nikki was a drug dealer who was allowed to operate out of Newhouse for sometime because she knew how to manipulate the staff and justify her odd hours. Nikki had left the shelter a week before. The hoodie girl continued her questioning and while they were talking, Nikki called Lane. Lane told Nikki about the inquiries and was asked the hoodie girls’ name. Lane told Nikki the girl was right in front of her so Nikki wanted to talk to her. Lane handed the hoodie girl the phone and backed off. That was it. I went to the staff to express my concerns about someone being able to infiltrate Newhouse with such ease. This lack of security was of a grave concern considering many women there had men that were actively pursuing them. Lane also went to the staff and told them of her encounter with hoodie girl. The next day we were all told that hoodie girl did not exist and that there was never a breech in security. I knew it was a lie, but held my opinion to myself, because it was more important that the women felt safe, than for me to be “right”. A couple of days later they exited Lane on a Confidentiality Breach because she gave hoodie girl contact with Nikki. If hoodie girl did not exist how could there be a breech? Everyone knew that they had been looking for a reason to exit Lane and used this encounter as an excuse. Lane was put out the next morning. Her sister took her in. With neither woman being healed from their traumatic childhood it did not work out and Lane found herself again back out on the street alone, struggling with a re-emerging addiction and feelings of defeat and worthlessness. All of this because Newhouse did not want to admit to its’ failure to keep the premises secure. My friend died by way. She contracted H1N1 and died. Xxxx is now in the care of her sister and husband. Would Lane have contracted H1N1 if she was still at Newhouse? Doubtful…It seems a high price to pay for having “ideas” and expressing them when invited. It seems a high price to pay because Munsey was having an off day.
I can give you story after story of women thrown out onto the street in fear of their abusers finding them and killing them. I can tell you story after story of confused children shuffled out by weeping mothers. I can tell you story after story of women and children hiding in their rooms in fear of failing somehow and being ask to leave. Of women saying good bye to newfound friends and their children, as they packed up what little they have left, what little they are allowed to bring in, and walk out the door. None having a safe place to go, otherwise they would not have been there in the first place. Some feel forced to have to go back to their abuser rather than face life on the street with their children. Some will face life on the street rather than go back to their abuser. Life on the street is hard enough. Can you imagine living it with someone out there looking for you to harm you?
I overheard a conversation between upper management. It went something like this. “We really don’t want these addicts here. I hate druggies. They are all the same.” Strange that these people are considered as ‘experts’ in their field and they haven’t grasped the basic truth, that addiction and abuse go hand in hand! Why has no one told them it is NOT alright to punish people because they have a disease…The disease of addiction. That you cannot put women and children lives on the line because you do not approve of their behavior.
For a moment wear our shoes and walk in them. We are beaten, raped, strangled, stalked, pimped, exploited, used, burned, slapped, run over, stabbed, shot and left for dead. WE ARE MURDERED. There are the children that suffer, that are beaten, abused, raped and hurt. We are helpless in our current state. We are broken. Feel how it is to be empty, numb, sad, terrified, confused, unloved and desperate. We are black, white and all the colors in between. We are rich, we are poor. We are educated, illiterate, genius and challenged. We are victims not criminals. We need for you to stand up for us, not hide us and our issues because it makes you uncomfortable. We need love, not hate. This is our world too. We are humans with human needs and feelings…..and human rights.
I want to know why my tax dollars, why my family’s tax dollars are being poured into a program that only perpetuates further abuse. Why, after so many complaints and investigations, this place has not been turned over to people who are good at what they do and have a real heart for the women who seek help. There are not enough beds for the women and children who desperately need help. Why would you allow such precious space to be so grossly misused? Why do you continue to support these people who further abuse?
What are you going to do? How many of these women and children will have to chose between a life on the street and a life of abuse? Someone has to start somewhere to stop this gross abuse of power and terrible waste of funds. It starts here with you, right now.
Help me, help them, help us.