SABRA provides protection from abuse

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2003

Right now, in an undisclosed location, a number of people are gathered for their own protection in a &uot;safe house&uot; in Selma.

They aren’t under the witness protection program. They aren’t spies. They’re people &045; primarily women and children &045; trapped in the seemingly inescapable situation of domestic violence.

SABRA, the Selma and Black Belt Regional Abuse Sanctuary, is responsible for taking care of people who are afraid of an abusive partner.

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Funded partially by the United Way, state money and private donations, SABRA operates one of the 18 shelters for victims of domestic violence in Alabama, serving Wilcox, Perry and Dallas Counties.

Serving mostly women and children &045; although a few men have sought help &045; SABRA provides victims with a safe place to go, counseling, transportation when necessary and sometimes legal aid.

The location of the &uot;safe house&uot; is a secret, to prevent perpetrators of domestic violence or sexual assault from tracking down their victims.

Although such situations have been rare, the home has been located twice by perpetrators. Once, a man walked in front of the building several times. Another time, a perpetrator managed to get into the back yard.

Bowline said the police responded instantly both times.

SABRA also provides counseling for sexual assault and rape victims, as well as preliminary medical screenings at their rape clinic.

Jo Ann Bowline, head of the organization, says it’s a tough job, but she’s proud to do it.

SABRA sheltered somewhere between 50-75 women and their children last


Their shelter, a small nine-bed home somewhere in Selma, has even housed victims in other districts, including Montgomery.

SABRA provides rape counseling to individuals 12 years and above. Those below that age are handled by juvenile systems.

Bowline has held her job for nine years. At the end of this month, she’ll be retiring.

After beginning her job, domestic violence invaded Bowline’s personal life. A relative was killed by a violent husband, who shot himself when the police arrived.

She says the work is rewarding, but to deal with so much suffering can be tiring.

Luckily, Bowline has a surefire stress reducer she’s depended on for years. &uot;I have a pool in my backyard. I can go sit by that pool with a book and I can completely get it out of my system,&uot; she said. &uot;That gets me through the next week.&uot;

Bowline also credits her staff for helping her stay sane. &uot;I have a wonderful staff. Without them my job would be horrible,&uot; she said.

Victims of domestic violence or rape can stay at the SABRA shelter for a month.

Oftentimes, a month away from an abusive relationship isn’t enough. &uot;Victims may leave and go back to their ‘perp’ anywhere from seven to ten times,&uot; said Bowline.

That means a lot of victims are in and out of the shelter.

At one time, victims had a limit on the number of times they could stay in the shelter; it’s long since been lifted.

As a result, many women don’t report sexual assault or domestic violence to prevent suffering the social stigma involved.

And, despite all the help, advice, counseling and care SABRA provides, it’s ultimately up to victims to take care of themselves. &uot;We try to empower them,&uot; said Bowline. &uot;They have to make up their own minds, you can’t force somebody to do something.&uot;

Bowline said she’s heard some people criticize victims for not leaving sooner.

She said what some fail to understand is the sacrifice involved in leaving a spouse or significant other.

Many victims, upon leaving, are forced to give up their material possessions and their homes, without any guarantee they’ll be replaced.

With over $60,000 in budget cuts, SABRA’s United Way funding is now more important than ever.

They’ve lost money from the state, forcing them to lose grant money because of a lack of matching funds. They’ll be holding fundraisers after the United Way drive, because &045; even with the United Way funding &045; they still have to make up for lost state funds.

If you are interested in donating time or money to SABRA &045; or need help &045; call 1-800-650-6522 or contact the Selma Police Department.