When Connie Kingrey-Knapp walked away from her abusive marriage and stepped inside Barren River Area Safe Space on June 14, 1993, she slept without fear for the first time in 27 years.
“Once I was there I knew it was under security,” Kingrey-Knapp said. “Nobody could get in, and nobody knew where I was at. I was able to lay down and go to sleep without worrying about being found and killed. BRASS was my life jacket.”
Kingrey-Knapp is a domestic violence survivor, grateful to have found a haven and bed when she decided to leave her abuser. Unfortunately, for many victims in Kentucky, requests for help are not always met because of lack of money.
BRASS, the area’s domestic violence shelter and program, has been receiving record numbers of calls for help. On most nights, the 28-bed facility is at or over capacity.
Never miss a local story.
During the last fiscal year, which began July 1, 2015, and ended June 30, 2016, BRASS received 15,869 calls for service. Of those calls, 5,169 were crisis calls, with the remainder being information and referral calls. BRASS provided shelter during that same time period to 395 unduplicated women, children and one man, BRASS Executive Director Tori Henninger said.
“It’s encouraging that we have larger numbers because it means more people are reaching out for services,” Henninger said. “It’s a great way for showing the true need because it’s still an underreported crime. We maintain at or above capacity about 90 percent of the year.
“Technically, capacity is 28 beds. But that doesn’t include toddler beds or cribs. We can serve up to about 35 people comfortably. We fit more, it just gets really tight.”
On nights when there are more people than there is space available, BRASS will reach out to another shelter or might provide a hotel room to someone in crisis.
Kingrey-Knapp said people sometimes wonder why victims don’t leave abusive situations. Often, the answer is “because there’s not enough places that are safe enough for them to leave and go to.”
“In most cases, when a woman has to leave her home she leaves without anything,” Kingrey-Knapp said. “No matter how hard they plan, they are forced to walk away empty-handed. Most perpetrators make sure that their partner has no money. To try to leave your home with no money, there is no place to stay, and in most cases, most women have children.
“That is their biggest fear that they won’t have anywhere for their kids to go. They won’t have any food for their children. They choose to stay in a bad environment because they have no choice. If we had more shelters, then they would have a place that they know they could take their children and take themselves. ... The problem is we don’t have enough facilities. The one that we have here in Bowling Green isn’t large enough for the people that call. They only have so many beds and they can take in only so many people.”
The National Census of Domestic Violence Services that the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence released this month shows that on Sept. 14, 2016, in Kentucky, nearly 50 survivors or their children had unmet needs during the 24-hour census reporting period.
All 15 of the state’s domestic violence programs, including BRASS, participated in the census that shows 47 requests for help were not met because domestic violence agencies in the state lacked the necessary funding to provide the services.
“I think that if we were to look day to day, the number of victims served versus the number of victims who were not able to access services would be constant every day of the year,” said Katie French, communications coordinator for the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence. ”Advocates across our shelters, including BRASS, cite a lack of funding as the main barrier to providing for all of the needs of every survivor. Shortage of direct service staff is a primary problem. If local community members want to further this cause, they could talk to their state and local legislators about funding.”
Henninger is leaving no stoned unturned when it comes to looking for funding.
“We are in the process of trying to apply for new types of grants that we haven’t applied for in the past,” Henninger said. “We have 24/7 accessibility. We’d like to be able to provide more accessibility and evening programming, transportation service, financial assistance, mental health and substance abuse.
“We’re specifically focusing on mental health and substance abuse in the future as well as case management opportunities to be able to have advocates more available for individuals” to do more individual work as opposed to group work done now, she said.
“Each individual is unique and we try to provide services for their unique needs as well as the standard program that we provide to everyone. We do provide services to men. We provide services to any victim of domestic or dating violence,” Henninger said.
Looking to the future, Henninger has raised the possibility with her board of having a larger shelter.
“Right now, there is no plan or intention on moving,” she said.
She sees a need to expand not only to increase bed numbers but also to provide a less communal living experience.
“When shelters first emerged, it was find a place and get as many people in as possible to provide services,” Henninger said. “What we’ve found is just because they are all domestic violence victims, their needs are not the same. A bedroom that has only two people in it or one family is more conducive to healing.
“People have a place to retreat to be alone and not feel obligated to share with a roommate. It creates a place that truly is their own versus a shared space.”
Anyone can donate to BRASS by visiting http://www.barrenriverareasafespace.com/Donate.html.
Kingrey-Knapp, whose abuser is deceased, tells her story to help other people understand they can get out of an abusive relationship and live a full life.
“BRASS was the beginning of the turnaround in my life from becoming a victim to a survivor,” she said. “It wasn’t an easy life. It wasn’t easy to make the decision to escape. I was too afraid to leave. I didn’t have anywhere to go. If I can tell these stories and help someone make a decision to get out,” then it’s worth talking about the past.
“There’s a lot of people that has suffered a lot worse domestic violence than I did,” she said. “You can be beat to the ground and not feel like there is a way out. There is a way out. You have to be safe in doing it and make your plans and do it. It is the most dangerous time in a victim’s life when they are trying to leave.
“I’m no longer a victim. I’m 100 percent a survivor.”