CAIRO WOMEN’S SHELTER HELPS HUNDREDS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE SURVIVORS IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
After witnessing family members struggle with domestic violence, Jeannine Woods wanted to do something to help.
So, in 1985, Woods began working at the Cairo Women’s Shelter in Southern Illinois. In 1990, she was promoted to Executive Director — a position she still holds. The shelter serves approximately 400 clients annually.
“It was my hope that not only could I help the women in my community, but that I would be an example for the women in my family, and I would be able to help them also,” says Woods.
While women comprise about 90% of the adults served, there are also men and LGBTQ+ individuals who seek services. The shelter also assists the children of clients.
The Cairo Women’s Shelter supports residents of Massac, Alexander, Pulaski, Pope, Hardin and Union counties. The shelter has a sister site in Metropolis. There are 25 staff members between the two sites.
Domestic violence describes abusive physical, sexual and psychological behavior. The behavior is used to dominate or control others who the perpetrator knows on a personal level.
Pandemic poses problems
Prior to the pandemic, domestic violence was already considered a world-wide public health concern.
Across the country, mental illness and substance abuse rates have trended upward as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to housing and employment has become more challenging for many. These elements have contributed to what many call a “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence.
For instance, domestic violence cases increased as much as 33% across the globe in 2020 according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
Vickie Smith, the President and CEO of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV), says shelters across the state remained open during the initial lockdowns. But it was harder for many to seek those services.
“People had more difficulty accessing those programs because they were trapped at home with the person abusing them,” says Smith.
At the Cairo Women’s Shelter, Woods says that when initial lockdown restrictions were lifted, the number of clients seeking services immediately started going up.
The shelter maintains a system of safety protocols to help survivors during the pandemic as they seek shelter, meals, access to laundry equipment and support services.
And there have been positive shifts since Woods began her career nearly four decades ago. “When I got here, people accused us of breaking up families,” she says. Now, society at large is more aware of the problem of domestic violence and willing to accept the mission to prevent and stop it, she says.
Woods and others in rural areas face unique challenges in their line of work.
“This is an extremely religious area and community and there are a lot of people who feel that once you’re married, you stay there,” says Woods. Survivors may fear retaliation or judgment from others for speaking out.
“We want to make sure that number one, whatever decision they make is totally up to them,” says Woods. Her staff work to inform those seeking help of their options and ensure their comfort.
Another challenge for victims of domestic violence is often financial dependence on an abuser, which can limit options when trying to leave a harmful situation.
“One of the primary needs of a person who is experiencing domestic violence is to find good employment to support themselves and any dependents they have,” says Smith.
But in Southern Illinois, resources — including those to help with employment — can be difficult to come by.
Another significant problem for survivors is finding affordable, safe housing. The shelter programs are intended to provide short-term emergency housing, not long-term solutions.
Part of Smith’s work at ICADV is to make it clear how crucial government support of domestic violence services is.
Investment is worth it
In addition to the two shelters Woods oversees, one in Cairo and one in Metropolis, wrap-around services are available that include advocacy services for navigating the justice system, as well as assistance with medical services, social services, counseling, child care, job training, school programs and helping secure employment.
Smith stresses the importance and ongoing need to invest in all wrap-around services. Funding for help with counseling and employment can save costs later down the line.
These services result in a better quality of life for the survivors and their children. And, the services can help put an end to a pattern of violence in families, says Smith.
“The bottom line is no matter where you live in Illinois, you can get assistance,” Smith says. But she believes more investment is needed.
Smith says ICADV agencies serve about 50,000 clients per year. “If we know that one in three adult women and one in seven adult men have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, we know we’re just scratching the surface.” ■
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence and needs assistance, call the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline: (877) 863–6338.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available: (800) 799–7233.
The Cairo Women’s Shelter has a 24/7 hotline number: (618) 734–4357.