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New hope for victims of domestic violence

Charlotte has had a bed shortage for years; that’s about to change

Rashida G. had just moved to Charlotte when her boyfriend first attacked her. Jealous over some perceived slight, he threw Rashida on her bed, jumped on top of her and started choking her.

She stayed away from him for a couple of weeks but he came back, she says, whispering “sweet nothings”: “I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I really love you. I’ll never do it again, I promise.”

Young and lonely and in a new city, she took him back. Bad move.

Weeks later, she wanted to go out with friends for her birthday. He didn’t. He shoved her out the front door. Rashida shoved him back. He grabbed her, punched her in the face and stomach and kicked her until a friend pulled him away.

It got worse, much worse. But Rashida is a survivor, and today she will speak at a ceremony celebrating next Monday’s opening of Charlotte’s new, vastly expanded domestic violence shelter. It’s a project years in the making, and an important moment for the Charlotte region.

Safe Alliance, formerly known as United Family Services, for years operated a 29-bed shelter in a 5,000-square-foot building off Billingsley Road. Conditions were cramped. Some women were sent to motel rooms. Some were turned away. Those who were admitted could stay no longer than 30 days. They sometimes returned to abusive situations and were forced to cycle back through the shelter.

In contrast, the Clyde and Ethel Dickson Domestic Violence Shelter on West Boulevard has 80 beds in 40,000 square feet, big enough that no one is expected to be turned away. Women and children will be able to stay for up to a year. They’ll spend that time obtaining job skills, receiving physical and mental therapy and resolving their domestic problems – setting themselves up for a successful departure.

It was not always clear that this vital shelter would be built. United Family Services spent years working toward a $10.6 million fundraising goal. It has raised the $8.6 million it needed for construction and continues to raise the remaining $2 million, to be used to help offset annual operating expenses.

That perseverance, and donors’ generosity, was crucial. A woman is killed by a man she is in a relationship with about once a week on average in North Carolina. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department responded to more than 35,000 domestic violence calls this year, Safe Alliance officials say.

Rashida G. could have been just one more statistic. Over more than six years, her boyfriend beat her and sexually abused her, she says. She works for one of Charlotte’s large corporations and every year during open enrollment, she would sign up for the maximum life insurance and survivor benefits. “I made sure I got the most because I knew he was going to kill me. I planned to die at his hands.”

She finally took the risk of leaving him, saying she’d rather die as a woman than as a coward. He committed suicide, she says. She’s speaking out now to try to save other women from what she endured.

There are a lot of Rashidas out there. And today’s event celebrating the opening of the new shelter reminds us that there are people throughout our community who have dedicated their lives to making the world a little bit more bearable for those for whom it has become unbearable. Thank God for them.

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