Dangerous situation: Lack of shelter endangers domestic violence victims, local advocate says
Carroll County is home to multiple food pantries, an animal shelter, countless churches and many other charitable organizations.There is no doubt that the county's citizens care about others and strive to help fellow members of the community who are in need.
However, since the mid-1990s, Carroll County has been lacking a vital institution within its boundaries: a battered women's shelter.
Domestic violence is a major issue in the state of Arkansas; in fact, in recent years Arkansas has often been ranked by the Violence Policy Center among the worst states in which men kill women, and many of these incidents occur as a result of domestic violence.
Domestic violence plagues Carroll County just as much as it plagues the rest of the state, which can be illustrated in the tragic story of Laura Acevez. Her story has been a highly discussed topic recently, garnering attention not only in the county, but also on a national scale.
Acevez was allegedly killed by her former boyfriend, Victor Acuna-Sanchez, on New Year's Eve 2012. Acuna-Sanchez has been in custody since that night, when paramedics found Acevez lying unconscious in her Eureka Springs apartment with a gunshot wound to the head and the couple's 4-month-old son near his mother's body.
Court records document a string of purported attacks against Acevez, stretching back more than a year -- two of which resulted in charges. Beyond that, records are not available because Acuna-Sanchez was a juvenile. But family members said the abuse spanned Acevez's entire two-year relationship with him.
Acuna-Sanchez allegedly beat her with his fists and feet (while she was seven months pregnant with his child), brutalized her with a baseball bat, dragged her behind a car, choked her, vandalized her vehicle and apartments numerous times, robbed her and her family and told Acevez -- in minute detail -- how he planned to kill each of her children if she should leave him for good.
Linda Maiella, a friend of Acevez's mother, said that Acevez had been planning to escape from Acuna-Sanchez when she was killed.
Acevez's story has been the subject of many local headlines, and has been featured multiple times in the Huffington Post, connected with issues such as gun laws, communication lapses in domestic violence cases and, of course, domestic violence itself.
Most recently, Acevez's story has contributed to the release of a domestic violence plan by Arkansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross.
In fact, Ross traveled to Carroll County this week to meet with Laura Ponce, Acevez's mother, as well as other advocates for the prevention of domestic violence.
However, despite the publicity that the tragedy has received and potential statewide plans that it has prompted, little local change has been initiated. A year and a half after Acevez's heartbreaking death, efforts to create a local women's shelter still lack substantial support.
"Why aren't the churches in uproar? Why aren't people in an outrage?"Maiella asked. "It's an agonizing job getting people here to pay attention."
Maiella explained that a significant contributing factor in Acevez's death was the fact that there is no women's shelter in Carroll County that she could go to for protection and support.
"In Arkansas, there are areas and counties where [shelters] are not easily accessible for a victim to get to," said Ken Wade, executive director for the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"Laura was in a dilemma. There was nobody here who was trying to help her," Maiella said. "If there were a shelter here with services available, she could still be alive."
Acevez, like many victims of domestic violence, felt hopeless, as if she had nowhere to turn. No one helped her by directing her to a shelter in a different location, and part of that is because many Carroll County citizens are unaware of the existence or whereabouts of nearby women's shelters.
The closest shelter to Carroll County is Sanctuary, Inc., which is located in Harrison. Sanctuary offers a number of services for abuse victims, including a 24-hour crisis line, temporary shelter, advocacy, support groups and assistance with protective orders.
"The immediate goals of this group were to provide crisis aid and shelter to victims of family violence, to empower victims of family violence to reach their goals, to educate the community about family violence and to help erase these problems from society," said Executive Director Tammy Smith.
Sanctuary, however, only has 17 beds to serve Boone County and the surrounding four counties -- none of which have a shelter.
Lack of resources in Carroll County and nearby areas highlights the necessity for an easily accessible shelter, or at least some kind of services, for abuse victims.
"There is a critical need for shelters in certain parts of the state," said Wade. He pointed out that Carroll County is one of those areas.
Maiella, Ponce and others are working toward establishing a support system for domestic violence victims. Though many of the avenues they have tried to pursue in the past year and a half have led to frustration and dead ends, they are hopeful that future efforts will have more success.
In October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Village Writing School in Eureka Springs will host author Marian Szczepanski to talk about her novel, "Playing St. Barbara," which deals with the issue of domestic violence.
All proceeds that Szczepanski receives from selling her book at the event will go toward taking a first step to providing resources for abuse victims in Carroll County.
"We want to open a center that could offer advocacy, rides to nearby shelters, information and support," Maiella said.
She explained that advocates have their eye on a building in Berryville that could be used as the location of the center.
In addition to the October event at Village Writing School, Maiella has many other ideas for events to raise money, and awareness in the county. Ideas include reaching out to local businesses and the Eureka Springs art community for help.
"One thing can lead to another, with just a few people who care," Maiella said.
With the help of people who care about the cause and enough support from the community, she hopes that eventually the dream of opening a battered women's shelter in Carroll County will come true.