Leaders of Boonville’s shelter for victims of domestic violence spoke about their work after their annual march down Main Street from the fire station to Laura Speed Elliott Middle School on a chilly Saturday morning.
The annual march is held every October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to remind people that domestic violence is a serious issue everywhere, including in Boonville and Cooper County, said Linda and Luana Perry, two founders of the WINGS domestic violence shelter. They also invited the State Fair chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse to talk about their organization.
WINGS used to have “peak seasons,” times of year when they had more people who needed shelter, Linda said. Recently, changes to government funding have caused other shelters in the area to shut down, so the calls to WINGS don’t stop, she said.
WINGS gave up its state funding because the state wanted to establish additional requirements and tell the shelter how it should operate, she said. The shelter now operates on donations.
“We’ve done it before, and the Lord has literally taken care of us,” she said.
People are being abused, even dying from it, every day, Linda said. For a lot of people, the abuse becomes normal, and that makes getting people out of an abusive situation complicated. They learned in training to be prepared for someone to go back to an abusive relationship several times, she said.
They’ve also seen the effect an abusive home can have on children. If they regularly see one parent abusing another, or a sibling or themselves, it can seem normal to them, she said. They try to teach children why they shouldn’t hit other people, and that there are better ways to handle conflicts. While the shelter has helped a lot of people, there were some who they couldn’t, she said.
“We pray a lot, we keep each other undergirded in prayer. We keep people who we know are helping families in prayer, because prayer works,” Linda said. “Because this can be strenuous, physically and mentally, but we still want to do it, we still gotta help.”
The shelter helps people from all over, sometimes just serving as a place for someone fleeing an abusive relationship to gather the supplies or money they need to keep moving. Still, while some people want to believe there isn’t an issue where they live, the shelter gets plenty of calls from people around Cooper County, Linda said.
Offering shelter isn’t the only way WINGS can help someone in an abusive relationship. Leaving often takes planning, and can be deadly for the person trying to leave. WINGS can help come up with a safety plan, and contact police so they can be prepared to help, Linda said. They’ll do whatever they can to help when someone contacts them at their hotline, 660-537-4511.
Bikers Against Child Abuse
Luana Perry first heard of Bikers against Child Abuse when she was working as the victim’s advocate in the Cooper County Circuit Court. She met with them and saw that they were sincere about protecting children from abuse. She referred some children to be tutored by the group, and loved the organization and the results, she said.
Perry invited members from the Sedalia-based State Fair chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse, which covers several counties in west-central Missouri, including part of Cooper, to talk about what they do. The Jefferson City-based Mid-Missouri chapter covers the rest of the county.
If a guardian of the child approves, Bikers Against Child Abuse will take a child who is being abused under their wing. They mainly seek to empower the children and give them confidence, especially if they will be testifying against their abuser in court.
Children in the program need support from a legal guardian and have to be in therapy. The bikers aren’t therapists, and they try to completely avoid listening to what happened to the child because they don’t want to be in a position where they could be called as a witness.
The first step in the program is for “Cookie,” the child liaison officer, to meet the child and ask if they want to join the bikers. If they say yes, Cookie asks them to come up with a “road name.” The bikers use road names, like Cookie, to protect their and the children’s identities. Only the three bikers present at the first meeting with the child will know their real name, and the rest will only know them by their road name, she said.
Two members are assigned to each child, and they give the child their phone number. The child can call for any reason, if they need protection, or if they’re afraid and need to talk to someone. The bikers avoid violence, but they are willing to stand between a child and their attacker, she said.
The bikers also show the child the courtroom before a hearing, so they’re not so scared of the environment when it happens. Testifying against an abuser is stressful for a child. They are forced to confront their abuser publicly in an unfamiliar setting. The bikers try to help make the child more comfortable by attending court hearings and sitting in the gallery to show the child that there are people there who support them, she said.
The State Fair chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse can be reached at its hotline, 1-800-414-4141.