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The Hidden Sides of Abuse, Part Four: Life in a Battered Women's Shelter

This morning we hear part four of our in-depth series "The Hidden Sides of Abuse." In today's segment, KSMU's Jennifer Moore takes a look at what life is like in one of Missouri's battered women's shelters.

In an undisclosed location, somewhere in Christian county, eight women and nine children are living behind a locked gate.

In each of their rooms is an emergency cell phone, only to be used for dialing 9-1-1.

This is one of Missouri's 53 shelters for battered women. One the residents here is Jackie Walker.

"My husband would get into my ear and scream so loud to try to do damage to my eardrum. His abuse was to my neck, to try to choke me to death, and hit me with things," she says.

SShe was with her husband for 35 long years. She never told her family or friends about his abuse.

In addition to his violence, nearly every day, her husband would tell her she was worthless, made her feel unattractive, and told her that no other man would want her. And so for over three decades, she kept trying harder.

"I took the guilt, because I felt I had done something to be this way, and all those years, I felt like I was the one that caused it," she says.

One night, after an argument, her husband abandoned her at a motel in Ozark, Missouri. He knew she didn't have a penny and expected her to come back to him.

When the police found her, however, they made a judgment call and brought her here instead.

"When she opened that room, it was like all the pain an everything, I just was at peace," she says. "Just from that. And I was at peace, and I no longer had any worries. I can't describe it...it was overwhelming just to be there."

Meet Renette Wardlow, whom Jackie describes as her "Angel of Mercy." Renette runs the shelter on an entirely volunteer basis. A year and a half ago, she noticed she was spending all her time here, so she sold her house and, along with her husband and son, moved into the shelter.

"We get them to counseling, doctors appointments, legal services, and as they begin to realize this thing is not impossible, they realize this situation is not impossible; they begin to heal," she says.

In my tour of the facility, Renette showed me the kitchen--which lacks running water and an oven--a small playroom for the children, and a space she hopes to turn into an exercise room.

"This is the storage room...as you can imagine, we have to keep things in supply."

"Is this the extent of the resources you have here? This is it?"

"This is it."

"Because I'm looking here and I see one...one small shelf of diapers. And that's for nine children?"

"That's right."

The main problem facing Missouri's battered women shelters is not men trying to beat the door down or women committing suicide: their main crisis is a lack of funding.

The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence says almost half of Missouri's shelters are operating with a significant deficit. The more disturbing statistic is that over 5,000 women and children in Missouri were turned away from shelters in 2006 because there was no room. That's 5,000 victims who either had to find somewhere else to flee, or more likely, return to their abusers.

This year, the coalition is asking the state for a two-million dollar increase in the budget for domestic violence shelters.

Renette Wardlow confirms her shelter has had to turn away at least two women due to limited resources.

"And occasionally we can not take families because we don't have enough room for them, which is unfortunate, and I hate to turn anybody away, especially if they have children," she says.

Jackie now works raising money for the shelter and considers herself Renette's right hand.

Although she was too afraid to leave the premises when she first arrived, she no longer lives in fear.

When asked if she wanted to remain an anonymous source for this story, she said, "No. I'm proud to use my own name."

For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore in Christian County.