CASA closes Myrtle Beach domestic violence safehouse

akelley@thesunnews.com June 11, 2012 

A pregnant mother of two was one of at least 12 women and children displaced by the closure of two domestic violence safe houses operated by the Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, according to Sissy Rutherford, chair of CASA’s board of directors.

The Myrtle Beach facility was closed Monday on the recommendation of a Friday board vote because a State Law Enforcement Division investigation had prompted funding agencies to pull their support, Rutherford said.

The allegations, which prompted the involvement of SLED, center on a $32,000 grant from the S.C. Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs for the purchase of two vans for transporting victims.

The six women and six children are being moved to the Haven House or the Alliance Inn, said Rutherford, who added that there were hopes to reopen the Myrtle Beach shelter as soon as possible.

“What is needed is a new board of directors and money,” she said. “Right now they would need an immediate $10,000 to pay the staff for time worked and pay the utility bills.”

The pregnant mother had just moved from the Georgetown shelter, said Alicia Rahiem, who was CASA’s assistant director until shortly after Memorial Day when she and a dozen other employees were let go.

CASA, which stopped taking clients Friday, provided refuge for 250 women and children annually and helped more than 500 each year with legal advocacy and counseling.

Domestic violence is historically a major issue in South Carolina, which ranks No. 7 in the nation for the number of women killed by men. The state has been in the top 10 since data on domestic abuse was first collected and has been as high as No. 1.

Locally, police agencies respond to hundreds of calls a year. Myrtle Beach police investigated 442 incidents in 2011 with 148 so far this year. In North Myrtle Beach, 140 domestic violence incidents were reported with 50 as of Monday in 2012.

Those incidents reflect only reported abuse and include visitors to the area, according to North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling.

Rutherford said there are hopes to reopen the Myrtle Beach shelter as soon as possible.

There are no other agencies specifically serving abuse victims in Horry County and Myrtle Beach, though the Family Justice Center serves Georgetown. To the west there’s the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault.

That may be problematic for a victim seeking immediate help. Rahiem said women have called CASA with bags packed.

“We’ve had them call and say, ‘He’s gone to work, I need to be gone before he gets back,’ ” she said. “Sometimes they come in and they are severely beaten. Sometimes it’s just the threat of bodily harm, but if you’ve lived through it, that threat is very real.”

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.

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