Perpetrators of domestic violence tend to operate in secrecy.
They inflict injuries in unseen places, such as parts of the body covered by clothing, said Shannon Barry, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services shelter in Madison.
She said conventional wisdom used to be that the location of domestic violence shelters also should be secret. Not so much anymore. The national trend is toward public facilities.
“Our sense of safety that we had from being a confidential facility was really a false sense of safety,” she said.
The location of a proposed domestic violence shelter in Elkhorn would not be secret, and some neighbors worry it would attract violent people who could harm others nearby.
The shelter, which still needs city approval, would be at a former medical building at 20 N. Church St. in Elkhorn.
About 40 people attended a Tuesday event called, “Dispelling the myths: A domestic abuse shelter case study,” held at Community Action in Delavan.
The Walworth County Community Alliance hosted the session and invited Barry, “to speak as an objective third party to present an unbiased, yet well-informed, idea of what to expect,” according to a news release announcing the event.
Barry, who has been in this field for more than 20 years and has known her Walworth County counterpart, Heidi Lloyd, for about seven years, said people in her organization did research and talked to programs across the country. They learned those programs felt safer being in publicly known facilities.
At the Madison group’s older, secret facility, Barry said, they had at least three or four batterers show up per year.
In the new facility, where they have been for more than four years, there has been one.
She also pointed to security measures, such as staff, fencing and cameras.
The event was not meant to cover questions about the potential shelter in Elkhorn. At a few points, an event organizer had to steer the crowd’s questions away from the subject and toward Barry’s experiences.
The Madison shelter expanded in 2014, growing from 25 to 56 beds. Barry said the group received more walk-ins—about two per day—than expected.
Barry said outreach was important before opening the new shelter to educate the public and address fears.
New Beginnings APFV, which was previously called the Association for Prevention of Family Violence, is the organization trying to bring the four-apartment shelter to Elkhorn.
New Beginnings officials have pointed to the lack of such a facility in the county. They went through a multiple-year process to pick a location, said Lloyd, the group’s executive director.
They like the location on Church Street because of its proximity to the Elkhorn Police Department, Walworth County Department of Health & Human Services, Aurora Lakeland Medical Center, Tree House Child & Family Center, Walworth County Job Center and the Walworth County Courthouse.
Janis Scharnott, New Beginnings board president, said they are expecting to return to the Elkhorn Plan Commission sometime this spring. Since they last appeared before the body, she said, the group has been collecting more detailed security plans.
Scharnott said the group’s goal is to have the shelter built sometime in 2020.
“We got to a point where the need (for an emergency shelter) was becoming great enough that it had to be addressed,” Scharnott said.
Once New Beginnings gets a “yes or no” on the location, Lloyd said, they will then conduct more outreach to the community.