“We’ve had them call and say, ‘He’s gone to work, I need to be gone before he gets back,’ 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.”
– Alicia Rahiem, former assistant director of CASA
As the allegations of money mismanagement at Citizens Against Spouse Abuse continue to be probed and worked out, we can’t afford to let it discourage us from continuing to support the necessary work that the group performed.
The simple fact is that if CASA goes under, there is no one ready to step into the breach. The now-shuttered shelters in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown served as a crucial final safety net for abuse victims with nowhere else to turn.
The investigation into the use or misuse of a $32,000 federal grant is still ongoing, so it would be inappropriate to draw any sweeping conclusions at this point as to the fitness of the agency’s leadership or its continued viability. What is clear is the necessity for some group that will battle the vicious cycle of domestic violence that many local residents find themselves caught in. Local police agencies respond to thousands of domestic violence calls each year, and CASA had been helping up to 500 of them a year with counseling, legal services and emergency shelter.
Battered women still need a haven to turn to in the midst of their struggle. The agency’s management – and the accounting practices – is getting what sounds like a needed shakeup, and hopefully the dedicated workers of CASA will come out on the other side of this trial by fire a stronger and better group than before. All but one member of its board of directors has signaled their intention to step down. The shelters have closed. The agency’s workers have been let go. In many ways, the venerable group is back to square one. With most grants frozen and funding running out, this is make or break time for the agency, which has used a budget of around $700,000-$800,000 in recent years.
The city of Myrtle Beach has made a welcome start in ensuring that the fight will go on, pledging $50,000 to CASA in its budget for the upcoming year, one of the highest amounts in years. Nevertheless, city spokesman Mark Kruea said the money is contingent upon the group getting its act together, a good decision by the city and a sign of fiscal responsibility with taxpayers’ money. The funds could be a life preserver for the agency as it struggles to regroup after this controversy and give them something to look forward to.
The best possible outcome of all of this controversy would be a group that is stronger for having gone through it, a group that has overhauled its procedures, its staff and its leadership into a responsible, efficient agency once again. The problem that CASA is fighting is not going to go away. It would be worrying and disappointing if the agency did, especially without another group stepping up.
Erin Wilde, the lone remaining CASA board member, said she is hoping to mount some fundraisers soon to help rebuild the group and get the shelters open again. After allegations and investigations such as these, and until the probe is complete, it’s hard to have the same trust that we once did that the money will go where it is intended. But the overhaul in the works seems genuine and the need is such that we hope local residents will once again lend their support. Wilde summed up the situation well in talking earlier this week with reporter Amanda Kelley:
“I can totally understand that people will be wary, but all that I want to do is get the doors open again. As leery as people may be when it comes down to it, there’s women and children on the streets fearing for their lives.”