Nowadays, the idea of being against domestic violence is almost taken for granted. But as recently as 30 years ago, it was barely a blip on the socially conscious radar.
"At that point, there was no recognition of violence against women, period," says Bonnie Tinker, founding director of the Bradley-Angle House, a shelter for battered women that in 1973 helped revolutionize treatment for survivors of domestic violence.
"We didn't talk about 'victims' or 'survivors.' When the police received DV [domestic violence] calls they would tell the women, 'Oh tell him to take a shower, he'll be okay. You gotta stay with your kids, go talk to your preacher.' And the preachers would say, 'Oh it's your duty to submit. You must have done something wrong.'"
Because the necessary terminology didn't exist to give the Bradley-Angle House its identity, it began simply as a homeless shelter that catered exclusively to battered women. But the House was unique in that its entire staff, including Tinker, had survived their own histories of domestic abuse.
"The first important thing in setting it up was to make our shelter a peer help agency," she says. "The women on the staff have all known violence themselves, so there was never any patronizing of the people who stayed there. It was very clear the people who stayed there were to have a voice in how the agency was run. They were included in any part of the operation they wanted, and this kind of respect of women who have known violence is still there."
Today, Tinker's Bradley-Angle House has grown into an institution--a vital community resource aimed at stopping domestic violence in all its forms through education and self-empowerment. Its components include a short-term emergency shelter for women and children who have had to flee their homes, longer term housing for women and children working to get their lives back together in the wake of a violent situation, a 24-hour crisis phone line, shelter youth programs, and a community education branch that provides support groups for survivors and information for underserved demographics. Always working from the belief that no woman is responsible for the abuse she's experienced, the House works at every level of recovery to help women make choices that are right for them.
"One of the issues for people who are living through DV is a sense they are on their own, and have no choice but to continue putting up with it," says Lisa Schroeder, who owns the restaurants Mother's Bistro and Mama Mia Trattoria and regularly donates food and services to the House.
"When I finally left my abuser," Lisa says, "my daughter was sick, and up until then I'd thought 'Oh my god, how am I going to a support my child? Where's daycare going to come from? You feel like you can't get out of it, and the Bradley-Angle House offers solutions. Just being able to talk to somebody that says you don't have to live with this is the first step to not living with it. You're so brainwashed into thinking this is all you deserve and it doesn't get any better. Just having a voice that says 'No, this isn't normal' is the first step."
"It's not a matter of 'Oh, you're a poor victim, come do what we tell you, and we'll save you,''' says Tinker. "Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and pedagogue, once said: 'Nobody saves anyone, nor does anyone save themselves alone. Together we save ourselves.'"
For its commitment to not just helping those in trouble, but for providing them with the strength and encouragement to help themselves, the Mercury is proud to donate the proceeds of this year's Online Gift Auction to the Bradley-Angle House.