IOCC Assists Alabama’s
|Volume 12, No. 2
Mobile, Alabama Toni Ann Torrans takes pleasure in describing Penelope House, the shelter she runs for battered women, as “Fort Knox.” She leads a visitor through an electronic fence lined with barbed wire. A second fence will not open until they are cleared through a call box. The shelter has lights, a security camera, a good relationship with the local police, and – if that were not enough – “a third line of defense with the moat,” said Torrans, referring to the reservoir ditch in front of the compound that she hopes will make perpetrators think twice about trying to get to their wives or girlfriends.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 1 in 3 adult women are assaulted by a husband or partner. Of the 6 million women who are beaten each year by an intimate partner, 4,000 are killed, and only one-fourth of domestic violence cases are reported.
Domestic abuse laws are relatively new and not every state has even declared domestic violence a crime. “In the past, if a man hit his wife and she called the police,” said Torrans, “they might take him for a drive to cool him down, but he would not be arrested.”
Penelope House was founded in 1979 in a two-room home by Torrans’s mother, Kathryn Coumanis, a state social worker. Initial funding was provided by the Daughters of Penelope. This was Alabama’s first shelter for battered women. In 1990, they moved to their current location, a compound large enough to accommodate 50 mothers and their children.
In 2008, about 1,000 women and their families received some form of assistance from Penelope House. The shelter has a 24-hour crisis hotline to provide counseling and referral. A woman is accepted into the shelter if she is in imminent danger.
The average stay is 35-40 days, but some women stay for as long as six months while they assess their situation with the help of a counselor and set life goals. The shelter also offers referrals for job training and transitional apartments.
Torrans is a firm believer in community outreach and education to help prevent domestic violence – particularly among children who grow up thinking that violence is normal in relationships. IOCC recently provided a $19,000 grant to Penelope House’s Prevention Education program for grades K-12. Children are taught to cope with stress, learn safety measures when there is violence in the home, and where they or their mothers can turn to for help.
Like most non-profits in this bleak economy, Penelope House is experiencing cutbacks in giving. It affects the women they help who may have to stay at the shelter longer because relatives or friends cannot take them in. Torrans, however, is staying focused on her ultimate goal: “Provide a safe place for women in danger and help them get back to themselves.”