Geri Cahill-Miller’s experience as a domestic violence victim left her believing victims in Lorain County need more help.
“It’s easy to say that you want to help,” said Cahill-Miller, founder of the Purple Lotus Project, a new domestic violence prevention group. “But when you actually get that phone call and somebody’s asking for it, not everyone says yes.”
Cahill-Miller, 31, said Thursday that there is an indentation in a wall in her Elyria home where her then husband slammed her into it. She said her husband began abusing her two months into their 2004 marriage and it continued until 2009. Cahill-Miller said the abuse included being smashed in the head with a laptop computer and having a tooth knocked out.
Her husband pleaded guilty to domestic violence and two counts of violation of a protection order in 2009 and served a three-day jail sentence, according to court records. He was convicted of felony violation of a protection order in 2010, the year they divorced.
Cahill-Miller, who said she sometimes answers the door at home with a gun, said she endured the abuse for five years because of their son, now 8 years old, who she said has autism and attention deficit disorder. Cahill-Miller said she worried about her son being alone with her husband during custody visits and felt she could better protect her son while married.
Cahill-Miller said Genesis House, Lorain County’s domestic violence prevention group and battered women’s shelter, didn’t give her the help she needed when she was being victimized. Cahill-Miller, a real estate agent, said she couldn’t make the 5 p.m. curfew to stay at the shelter overnight because of her job and that a 30-day maximum stay at the shelter wasn’t long enough for her. Cahill-Miller said her experiences mirrored complaints she has heard from other women over the last few years leading her to form the all-volunteer group in January.
“There’s a problem,” she said. “There needs to be more services.”
Virginia Beckman, Genesis House executive director, said Sunday that the curfew is flexible as are the lengths of stay. Beckman said victims stay an average of 30 days but some stay months while others stay a few days.
Beckman said Genesis House — which has a 22-bed shelter, an approximately $700,000 annual budget, and a staff of seven full-time and nine part-time workers — has done groundbreaking work helping victims. Beckman said the group, formed in 1979, received a “promising practices” award from the Ohio attorney general’s office in 2011 for Teen Street Teams. The teams include teenagers and their teacher advisers educating young people about dating violence and overall domestic violence.
Beckman said a staff member has been nationally recognized for working with mentally or physically disabled victims, and the group has a partnership with the Murray Ridge Center, which helps mentally disabled people. The group also has worked with psychologists on the effects of head injuries.
“We feel really confident that the work we do is representation of best practices in our field,” Beckman said.
Nonetheless, Cahill-Miller insists victims in Lorain County are underserved. She said the group was originally formed to be a Facebook page directing victims to available services, but members soon realized more help was necessary.
“We started getting calls because everyone else said no,” Cahill-Miller said.
Cahill-Miller said Purple Lotus is about to apply to the Internal Revenue Service for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt status, which would allow it to seek grants. Despite having no budget, the group has helped about 50 women and 10 men this year. Assistance has included escorting victims to court — members do not provide legal advice — finding homes for victims’ pets and organizing vigils for domestic homicide victims.
While most victims are women, Cahill-Miller said more attention needs to be given to male victims. She said a stigma about men admitting they were abused by women has prevented many men from getting help.
Cahill-Miller said there also needs to be more help for victims’ pets, which she said abusers sometimes hold hostage to keep victims from leaving. Purple Lotus has gotten 23 dogs adopted or put in foster care — including dogs belonging to homicide victims Lauren Moore and Halyna Whitney — according to Pat Fogo, who founded the group with Cahill-Miller. In addition to sheltering animals, Fogo said the group hopes to teach children who witness domestic violence not to abuse animals.
Greater outreach is just part of the group’s ambitious agenda. Cahill-Miller said Purple Lotus is looking at a 57,000-square-foot building to convert to a shelter for 175 women and 25 men. A 30,000-square-foot building is also being considered. The bigger building, which would separate men and women, would have armed security and about six full-time and six part-time staff members.
The bigger building would cost $500,000, and Cahill-Miller said she hopes to open a shelter by next year. She said Purple Lotus would need an annual budget of at least $400,000 to run the shelter.
Cahill-Miller insists the goals are realistic, but the initiative comes at a time when money for domestic violence programs is scarce. Ohio groups receive county money from marriage license fees, but none directly from the state. Federal taxpayer money comes through the Violence Against Women Act, a law designed to help victims, but public and private funding is down, according to Nancy Neylon, Ohio Domestic Violence Network executive director.
Neylon wrote in an email that sequestration — wide-ranging federal deficit reduction cuts — will result in 6,000 fewer victims being served in Ohio next year.
“Domestic violence programs are struggling to stay afloat,” Neylon wrote.
Funding for Genesis House is down $100,000 to $200,000, according to Beckman. With money scarce, does it make sense for a new domestic violence group to potentially be competing for grants with Genesis House?
Cahill-Miller said yes. She contends that competing for money will improve services and give victims more options.
“It’s going to make us be stronger and them be stronger because we’re both going to have to show why we need it,” she said. “You only get better if there’s something else out there.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.