Abuse Shelter Director Says, “We Can’t Go Backwards”
Kim Wojchik is the Executive Director at Turningpoint in River Falls for victims of domestic and sexual violence. They served 797 people in 2011 who came to them from either Pierce or St. Croix County [Western Wisconsin]. She has seen government funding to her facility decrease by 15% over the past few years, and funding for the sexual abuse program has been eliminated entirely. However, with hard work and tremendous help from the community, Turningpoint has been able to “stabilize” for now. In order to do that, they needed to make tough choices that were previously not desirable. For example, Wojchik has increased the time that families can stay in the shelter form 1 to 3 months because they “literally don’t have anything to leave to…where 3 years ago they did”.
Here’s her story.
“The people that we help can be from any socioeconomic background. It doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor. We do have some wealthy people who have some barriers and are being impacted by domestic or sexual violence. Um, they can be from any racial group, all age groups… kids who are being abused, elderly…
But the typical person who comes to us, though, are usually women (1 in4 women is abused). 98% of domestic abuse victims are women, and they are usually between the ages of 20 and 35. Um, but usually they are bringing children who have been impacted by domestic and sexual violence so then they, too, become clients. We do have more men, though, than we’ve ever had before (1 in6 men is abused).
About 65% of our funding comes from government , so that would be federal and state government, grants, and then the remaining come from fundraising and individual and private giving. When I got here the percentage of governmental funding was closer to 80%. At that time I knew that we’d be looking at potential government funding going down, and I knew that we didn’t want to reduce our programs. So, I knew that we’d have to make up that ground in individual giving and fundraising, and we have a thrift store where we generate revenue. Traditionally, churches have given us a tremendous amount of money and food and clothes.
So, the last 3 years the government funding has been cut, and cut, and cut, which we anticipated. As that’s been cut, we’ve been able to fundraise and generate other revenue. We’ve stabilized our services and actually expanded a few over the last few years.”
WOW, excellent. Well that’s not the normal story that we’re hearing out there right now.
“Ha! (Shaking head) It’s not the normal story. And it‘s not without a great deal of effort from myself and the board and a very committed community of people. Again, we’ve been able to internally stabilize…but had to make changes like increasing our shelter stay from 30 days to 90 days…which was something we haven’t wanted to do. Also, agencies that people used to be able to access on the outside have been dramatically reduced.
[For example] people are fine when they are here and being supported, but they literally don’t have anything to leave to. They don’t have transportation, housing, they don’t have employment, they don’t have medical assistance, they don’t have child care assistance….where 3 years ago they did. But now? It is basically non-existent. What we need to do is expand our programming, so that we can provide, so that we have those resources for victims…..where before we could rely on government and other agencies, I don’t foresee that coming back….um, I hope it does…I think that’d be great.
The funding that we’ve lost over the last 3 years has been sexual assault funding, which is ridiculously under-funded. We only have 1 sexual assault staff member for 85,000 people….so that was already under-funded and then dramatic (state) cuts to sexual violence funding. Also federal funds like HUD, any kind of housing funding, continuum of care has been drastically reduced…emergency food shelter grant funding that we used to get we’ve lost completely – that was like $11,000 that we don’t get anymore.
So, we’ve stabilized, yeah, but we’re still not even reaching the tip of the iceberg.”
So, what would it mean to your organization to lose even more government funding at this point?
“Um…we’d have to work harder. We’d have to divert energy that we could be using to help broader groups of people, to just stabilize, again. Victims would feel abandoned, not only by their abusers but by the government and the people who are supposed to protect them. We can’t go backwards…I think any step that we take backwards is just damaging to the whole movement. If we maintain what we have, I think we can do good things. But when we lose legislation that protects people, when we lose funding that has been already allocated to people…you just, you just can’t go backwards (motioning behind her)…so, if in 2012 we are going backwards to protecting women and children, you really have to stop and say, wow. They were under-funded in the first place, so why in the world are you going backwards? Check yourself (laughing, smiling) you know? Just check yourself! Whoever you are – do some checking, because you can’t go that way (laughing loudly and gesturing). Whatever political party you are in, that is just ridiculous and not a common sense approach!”
Wisconsin recently repealed the equal pay for equal work law, which will largely impact women. Do you see this recent policy change affecting your clients?
** [This was a poorly worded question. The recent repeal actually was of a provision in Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act (Act 20); the repeal eliminated the right to sue in state court for compensatory and punitive damages after an employer had been found to have violated Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Act by an Administrative Law Judge for the Department of Workforce Development. The repeal decreases the available remedies under state law and in state courts for those discriminated against. Federal avenues and remedies available for discrimination claims, through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have remained unchanged.]
“Yes. Absolutely. The recent legislation, equal pay for equal work, I think it’s relevant to us on a lot of levels just because oppression and domestic violence are really linked, and we know that women not getting equal pay for equal work is really rooted in those oppression type thing. Equal pay for women is also relevant to us because the majority of the victims of domestic violence are women and it perpetuates the stereotype, that for some ridiculous reason women have less value.
I was at a world conference (on domestic abuse) , where I met a woman from Iceland. They had 10,000 women walk off the job: doctors, nurses, attorneys. I was like, “that’s amazing…” and you know – they get the connection between oppression and social justice! I think we’ve got to get to a time (in the U.S) where it’s, like, ridiculous, the conversation that women deserve equal pay, but at the same time what is even more ridiculous to me is that people don’t make a living wage. It is disturbing that people go to work 40 hours a week and they can’t pay their rent and they can’t pay their bills.
As a director raising funds, I generate more synergy around the common good in human rights and when we promote a “living wage” because our donors are men, our board members are men, a lot of our victims are men. So, I get it, and I know the relevance of equal pay for women because I go home and I complain to my husband and he’s, like, “stop complaining to me!” (Laughing). Women alone can’t solve this problem. If they could – it would’ve been done.
So, let’s talk about human rights and human dignity. That, for me, as a director, generates more funds and more fundraising, more people involved in the cause, less isolation, more awareness…but it is good to not lose sight of the fact that it is still men who batter women. But the quote is that, ‘It is mostly women who are battered by men. But, not all men batter. But, most men do stay silent.’
So, what we really need is men invested in not being silent. (Men need to say) ‘I’m not going to allow it in my chamber, I’m not going to tolerate it in my church.’ ”
Would it be a fair assessment to say that the policy changes over the last several years have more adversely affected the population that you serve, especially if it is more difficult to find a livable wage?
We deal with people form all socioeconomic backgrounds, but a lot of the women who come to us for services literally have no economic means to do anything. So, when they decide to break away from their abuser, if they don’t have a livable wage, don’t have governmental assistance, don’t have affordable housing or don’t have any of those other programs…it dramatically impacts their chances of not only being alive, but their quality of life and the lives of their children….I mean the chances of their children growing up and perpetuating the cycle of violence or becoming victims is dramatically impacted by the fact that they can’t break free from that cycle. So, yeah, it’s been bad for a long time, and it will continue to be bad.
I think that we need to encourage corporations to pay more, you know, have government impact on all of that….”
What would you say about the children that you serve?
“I can get a room of people divided in a minute when you talk about rape. We think that everybody is on board with those concepts! (Laughing, shaking head). Everybody is not! (Laughing incredulously).. .. Some people don’t even think we should be talking about those things in Western Wisconsin! But I can get a room full of people organized and rallied and totally on the same page about protecting our children…that no child should have the penis of an adult anywhere near them, and no child should have to hide under a couch while their dad is bludgeoning their mom….I mean, we could get super graphic but the reality is – our children, in mass proportions, are not safe.
I would like to see 100% prevention intervention…which would mean every kid who lives in our 2 counties meets with us, sees us, and we are very close to achieving that goal. We just started a text program, and we have kids that text us every day, like crazy. We’ve already had 3 kids text us that they’ve been sexually assaulted and don’t want to tell their parents. Now, they’ve all met with their parents, along with an advocate, and been able to talk about their sexual assault.”
What are some stories of the people that you serve?
I’m thinking of one woman in particular who lives in this really wealthy home, but her abuser is throwing urine on her, or verbally abusing her. She talks about one time that they were doing something with their giant boat, but their daughter didn’t have tampons. The control dynamics, when it is physical or not, but it is about people being free in their homes.
Then, we had a family of 5 come a couple of weeks ago, and they didn’t speak any English; they only spoke Spanish. So, the barriers for the immigrant workers are just huge. So, batterers tell them – ‘if you tell anybody, you are going to be deported’. So, the first thing they asked us was, ‘Am I going to be deported?’ And we are like, ‘Oh my goodness, no…we don’t need to see your license. We don’t know who you are. We don’t need to do anything.’
Now, I’m thinking about another rural woman that her husband would just randomly disconnect the phone and he would just smile at her. That, to her, meant that she was his and that nobody could get to her or her children. Then, he denies doing it and tells her she’s crazy.
Another time I remember answering the phone and the woman told me that she was afraid that her German shepherd was going to die because he keeps locking it in the closet. Then, she said, ‘but he doesn’t abuse me.’ And you know what? Everybody says that. And I say, ‘well that’s ok, but I am concerned about the dog, too, because a lot of people do abuse pets to control you’. And she says, ‘well sometimes he does hold the dog up and puts a butcher knife to its neck and the dog pees on the floor and he says, ‘I’m going to kill the dog and kill the kids and nobody will ever believe you because you are crazy.’
Or, he pushes me out of a moving vehicle…
You know I could tell stories like this all day long, but it’s like anything that you can think of that can be manipulative…controlling.
And the guy will (always) say ‘nobody is going to believe you… your friends are done with you, your family has had enough, you’re crazy , everything about you is crazy’… to the point that they plant drugs in her purse, so if the police ever do come, then there is this, ‘yeah, but she’s got pot in her purse.’ “
**[A local woman who was helped by Turningpoint posted her story on YouTube. Robin Weiskopf said, “I told my story for the purpose of helping others that are where I have been to see that there is hope, and there is help." Her mother and friend also offered perspectives.]
If you could ask the community for help, what would that be?
“Know that it is your problem…it could be your kid, your neighbor, your friends. We need more speakers, we need more teachers, we need more people talking. Shop at our Second Chances store on Main Street in River Falls, donate furniture, clothes and any other items to our store. Use whatever skills and resources you have to help. If you feel moved by this to do something, call me and we’ll go for coffee. I can promise you that we will use your time, energy, talent, or your money in some way to impact this problem.”
Kim Wojchik’s story is one of hope. Her organization, along with the community, has met their obligations toward the most vulnerable women and children in their community by filling the void that the loss of governmental funding had left. It is a shining example of regular people working together in troubled times to solve a problem.
However, Turningpoint is interdependent upon society. Law enforcement, the educational system, churches, and various other groups and people all refer victims to Turningpoint and depend upon that organization when they have victims with nowhere else to turn. In exchange, Turningpoint depends upon society to meet the needs of the people when they leave the stability of the shelter. So, when society debates public policy, one piece of that discussion must include practical details about how the most vulnerable (and victimized or abused) people among us (and their children) will be able to survive amidst social service cuts. Wojchik hits upon a crucial element, when women “decide to break away from their abuser, if they don’t have a livable wage, don’t have governmental assistance, don’t have affordable housing, or don’t have any of those other programs…it dramatically impacts their chances of not only being alive, but their quality of life and the lives of their children.”