Out of harm's way

Sarah's Inn launches advocacy initiative to reach more battered women

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Pat Prinzevalle wants everyone to know that last year about 47 percent of the referrals to Sarah's Inn came from the local police departments. Her agency has served more than 20,000 domestically abused women and children in 23 communities in hopes of making the numbers better.

But the executive director of Sarah's Inn isn't crowing yet. She says that still 5.3 million women and 3.3 to 10 million children are abused or exposed to domestic violence nationally each year, and 42 percent of all female homicide victims are murdered by an intimate partner or family member. She says women who leave their abusers are at a 75 percent greater risk of being killed by their partners than those who stay. Domestic violence continues across all socioeconomic, cultural, religious and racial lines as well as sexual identities, so it's too early to consider celebrating Sarah Inn's progress yet, Prinzevalle says.

Getting out

In recent years, Prinzevalle has been transitioning her agency from a social service model to one of social justice. Sarah's Inn, she says, is now "out" with a new programming and service office at 5846 W. Madison St. in Chicago. But Prinzevalle notes they intend to renovate their building on Harrison Street in Oak Park into an emergency shelter that will house around 50 women and children daily.

"Everyone knows that Sarah's Inn has never had an emergency shelter, but last year we housed 61 women and children in hotels when they couldn't find a bed in an existing emergency shelter," she says. "And we plan to help more at-risk women in the future."

Additionally, this fall, Prinzevalle is rolling out her new Face-To-Face with Survivors initiative. In it, "floating advocates" will be given access to the Illinois Department of Human Services office in Melrose Park to connect with local women and children.

The concept, she says, is that these advocates will be able to respectfully offer low-income women and their children - many of whom are on public aid or receiving food stamps - assistance in filling out forms. They will also be on hand to listen, in the hope that women will privately share their personal experiences with domestic violence and agree to accept help.

Face-to-Face, she speculates, will eventually expand to more local welfare offices, unemployment offices and hospitals, giving the agency a great presence in every community it services.

Until then, most of the credit for its recent notable accomplishments, says Women's Program coordinator Liz Figueroa Serrano, is linked to its array of wraparound programming, which ranges from support groups, individual counseling and legal advocacy to community outreach and volunteerism - a vital cog for everything Sarah's Inn does.

"We know how difficult it is and how much courage it takes for a battered woman to pick up that phone, or walk in to our office. That is why we are going to go to them," Prinzevalle says. "Every day many, many women are being beaten, and it is for those women, even though we don't know their names yet, that Sarah's Inn exists."

-Deb Quantock McCarey

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