OAKLAND (CBS 5) – Thousands of Bay Area battered women have found safety and new start, thanks to this week’s Jefferson Award winner, an East Bay pioneer in helping domestic violence victims.

A woman we’ll call “Hope” says she escaped four years of verbal and physical abuse, when she and her two children left her partner last spring.

“I was really scared, I was really nervous,” Hope remembered. “I felt that no one was going to be there for me.”

She came to A Safe Place, an Oakland shelter, and met executive director Carolyn Russell. There she received safe housing, a restraining order and counseling to understand the violence wasn’t her fault.

“It helped me feel like I wasn’t the one who did it,” she explained. “I wasn’t the reason why this happened to me.”

Under Russell’s leadership in the last quarter century, A Safe Place has taken in some 5,000 women and children needing shelter.

Russell’s commitment to abuse victims sprouted while working at Planned Parenthood. She referred abuse victims to get help, but noticed a disturbing trend.

“They continued to be in abusive relationships,” she said. “They continued to come into the clinic. But they would not reach out for the services offered them.”

So the Louisiana native researched domestic violence.

“I grew up in an area where domestic violence did not have a name. We didn’t recognize relationship abuse as domestic violence,” said Russell.

Determined to make a difference, Russell became executive director of A Safe Place, Oakland’s first battered women’s shelter. She helped design the first domestic violence units in the Oakland police department and county social services to better recognize and protect abuse victims. She says the work has cut in half the number of domestic violence calls to police.

“When I leave at the end of the day, I know we have made an impact on the lives of many women,” said Russell.  “But I know there’s more work to be done.”

For example, under Russell’s guidance, A Safe Place and the city of Oakland recently released a DVD called “Real Talk” to help prevent teen dating violence.

Board member Adrienne Littlejohn praises Russell’s tireless commitment to survivors of abuse.

“I’ve seen this,” said Littlejohn. “At the drop of a hat, she’s there when she’s needed.”

Hope thanked Russell for helping her step into a new job, apartment, and life, self-sufficient, self-confident, and violence-free.

“Now I’m stronger, more positive, more energetic. I never put myself in that situation again,” she said.

“To see women like Hope go through our programs gives us the energy to continue the work,” added Russell.

For helping thousands of abuse survivors find A Safe Place and a new life, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Carolyn Russell.

A Safe Place is sponsoring a walk against Teen Dating Violence. It starts at the Lake Merritt bandstand Saturday morning, October 2nd. Registration opens at 8:00a.m. For more information: www.asafeplacedvs.org



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