Advocating for women for 20 years |

Advocating for women for 20 years

The stories stay in her bones. They pump through her blood — year after year of bruises and bleeding and mothers running away in the middle of the night with their children.

“Even if I say that I don’t take work home with me, it’s stored somewhere in my cells,” said Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse.

This is the 20th anniversary of an organization dedicated to sheltering and counseling victims of violence, and Moore has been around since day one.

She can remember the first woman who asked for help, and she will tell you that during 20 years, only the names, the faces and the location of the bruises change. It’s the same story over and over again — the never-ending cycle of violence.

Twenty years ago, then-District Attorney Greg Long was sick of seeing a woman walk into his office, her bruises from the weekend turning yellow. She always said the same thing. She wanted to drop the charges against her husband.

Her husband was sorry, she said. It wouldn’t happen again. She had to sign a notarized statement to drop the charges. Staff members would watch her leave the office, knowing that the next time they saw her, if they saw her alive, the bruises would be worse.

“Sometimes you just felt like you were sending them out to their death,” said then-Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Hardy-Moore.

In those days, a battered woman had no one to call and nowhere to hide. So Long called together a group of women interested in starting an agency that would deal with Routt County’s domestic violence problem.

Among the women meeting for the first time on the courthouse lawn was a 35-year-old, stay-at-home mom and former social worker named Diane Moore.

“None of us had ever started a nonprofit before,” Moore said. “And (domestic violence) was a new field, anyway.”

Changing attitudes

Attitudes at the time were appalling by today’s standards.

“The attitude was basically that your wife was your property. If she didn’t have dinner ready, she deserved what she got,” said Steamboat Springs Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing.

Moore knew nothing about domestic violence, but she was the only one in the group who didn’t have a full-time job, so she shouldered a lot of the volunteer work for the new grass-roots agency — already named Advocates Against Battering and Abuse.

Moore wrote the first grant proposal for Advocates — the first grant proposal she had written in her life. “I remember crying in the middle of the night thinking that I wouldn’t get it done in time for the deadline,” Moore said. Now, she writes 20 grants a year to keep the organization funded.

Getting started

The first office for Advocates was in Moore’s kitchen. She had a metal filing cabinet next to her refrigerator, and her kitchen table was covered with piles of paper.

It was 1983 and across the country, domestic violence shelters were opening, and studies were being done to learn more about the issue.

Years earlier, a psychologist named Dr. Lenore Walker interviewed 1,500 battered women in Denver and discovered that each of them described a similar pattern of spousal abuse. The research she published opened eyes across the country.

Meanwhile, things were building slowly in Steamboat.

Advocates put an ad in the newspaper asking people to open extra bedrooms for a night or two for women who needed a place to hide. Families opened their homes.

The group baked pizzas in the kitchen of the old middle school and sold them to raise money for pagers. Advocates secured a help line phone number and volunteers carried a pager at all times.

“I remember the first time that pager went off,” Moore said. “I was driving down the street, and I almost went through the roof.”

Making connections

Because Advocates still had no official office, Moore met women for coffee at the El Rancho restaurant. “It was such a secret problem that I was hearing things like, ‘You mean I’m not crazy?’ and ‘This happens to other women?'”

About the same time, Fiebing was just graduating from the academy as a fresh face in the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.

He had been on the job one week when he responded to his first domestic violence call.

“He’d beaten her up pretty bad,” Fiebing said. “She had a black eye and a bloody nose. They were both drunk, and she picked up a gun and shot at him 15 times (but missed).”

The policy for a case like this was to mediate between the couple and then ask the guy to go somewhere else for the night.

The scary truth

“My parents were married for 50 years and I never saw them so much as raise their voices at each other,” Fiebing said. “I’d never seen anything like this before.” He was horrified but was told that this was a family problem and nothing could be done unless the woman wanted to press charges.

Fiebing knew that the man would be back. That this scene would play out again, but his supervisor said, “She’ll never testify, so why bother.”

“That’s the way we handled all of those cases,” Fiebing said. “If she would not sign the form, we couldn’t make an arrest.”

A couple of years later, too many violent memories fresh on his mind, Fiebing traveled to Denver with Diane Moore and Cheryl Hardy-Moore for a class on how to write domestic violence policies.

Making policy

The policy they wrote in the mid-1980s after that training is much the same as the policy used today by all Routt County law enforcement agencies.

Today, the Steamboat Springs Police Department requires an arrest be made if there is “probable cause.” Once an arrest is made, that person goes to jail without bond until a judge can see him or her.

“At first, cops thought we had to be kidding,” Fiebing said. “Now, we couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

After a man is arrested for assault in a domestic situation, the wife cannot walk into the District Attorney’s Office and drop the charges. Domestic violence is a crime against the state, and the arresting officer will testify if the woman will not.

“That’s how serious we are about this now,” Fiebing said. “Because domestic violence is dangerous. I can’t think of a homicide we’ve had in this county that hasn’t been related to a romantic relationship.”

Resources available

And today, there are resources for women who need to leave a dangerous situation.

Advocates has a shelter in a safe, quiet neighborhood. The agency has a 24-hour crisis line and a partnership with law enforcement agencies.

Even after 20 years of educating themselves and the community about domestic violence, the shelter is often full.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we are seeing the second generation,” Moore said. “We saw the mom years ago and now we are seeing the daughter.”

Inside the shelter, shades are drawn to keep the outside world from looking in. There is room for four families with a big back yard and a swing set for the children.

Women are allowed to stay in the shelter for up to six weeks. Advocates has a budget for groceries and a counselor to help shelter residents ease into their new lives.

Doris’ story

“Doris” came to the Steamboat shelter from another state. Her husband’s arms are far reaching, and she had to run as far away as she could drive to feel safe.

She called Advocates two months ago after years of physical and emotional abuse from her husband, she said. The last straw came when he locked her in one of their remote mountain properties without a phone or transportation.

“It was my punishment for being alive,” she said. Things were not going well in his business and as was often the case when a high-stakes business deal fell through, he took it out on his wife.

“For the longest time, you just put on a happy face and go out into the community. You pretend everything is OK,” she said.

This isn’t the first time she tried to leave her husband. She left a year before but went back “to big promises.”

Instead, things were worse than ever.

“He didn’t want us to go away,” she said. “So he would make me feel like something was wrong with me. If you met my husband, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong. He is very charismatic, very charming. It’s hard to get away from someone like that.”

Starting over

Leaving wasn’t an option. “He’s the children’s father. My parents stayed together their whole life, and I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Now, Doris wants to start a new life in Steamboat. Her children started school, and she is looking for a house. She gets a little stronger every day but is still afraid of being found by her husband.

“You can get past it but you can’t get over it,” she said, “especially when it comes to your children.”

Changing times

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t much help for women like Doris. Those involved in starting Advocates marvel at how much things have changed.

Attorney Sally Claassen was on the first board of Advocates. “Twenty years ago, there were no options for abused women,” she said. “There was no help line. No safe house. No funding.

“You think of the void there was and you realize those women were in a desperate position. We just take what we have now for granted.”

— To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail

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