Elvis Costello sang about it. Not that he's any expert. But hearing the sloppy guitar tangle, the talkin'-to-God vocal intro, the drum blast, and those words spilled out, a mental image grows: "There's a girl in this address/There's always a girl in distress/She's just a shabby doll...she's just a shabby doll."
Here's another image: She's at a pay phone near a sleazebag motel. She had 30 bucks to hide herself, anonymous, safe there. And now she's reaching out. She puts the phone to her ear, but it hurts to press it against the pulsing bruise that is the left side of her face, still trickling blood from the corner of her eye. (Her husband has a killer right hook.) Teary mascara tiger-stripes her cheeks and she's not making sense and maybe not hooking up with what she needs. And what she needs right now is help, because her last $30 is now gone.
She has no idea what she'll do or where she'll go tomorrow, after check-out time. She calls all the right places, but the handful of havens for abused women typically turns away one-third of those in need. If all the lines at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence are busy, callers get a recording that begins, "If this is an emergency, dial 911...," as if they might actually do that.
At the battered-women's component of the Salvation Army, called the Women's Lodge, there are 30 beds for women (and in some cases their children) chased from their own homes by violence. The shelter's Darlene Arroyo is quick to point out that those are double beds: "We can hold 60. And yes, we're usually at capacity."
The Salvation Army provides 24-hour sheltering, medical services, classes, and day care so the mothers can seek jobs and a new place to live. "Some of these women come with nothing," says Arroyo. "So we give them donated clothing. We get some United Way funding and FEMA, but we're always in need of money. The day care is important; it's rare that a shelter provides that, so the mother can work." (According to a 1989 study in New York City, one-third of sheltered women returned to their abusers because they could not find long-term housing otherwise. And Legal Reform Efforts for Battered Women reported in 1990 that half of the homeless women and children in America were fleeing domestic violence.)
Of course there is the obvious, the place where the trickle of blood can be stanched and stitched: the hospital. Allyson Kapin's mother works at a hospital and deals directly with the human remnants of shattered partnerships. Kapin is nineteen, a journalism/art history student at the University of Miami. "My mom is a social worker," she says, "and she deals with a lot of abuse cases. I hear about it every day and it really upsets me."
Six months ago Kapin began organizing a benefit concert to raise money and awareness for organizations that help beaten women. A major corporation tossed in some money A thousands of dollars, sources say, but Kapin refuses to give an exact figure A and national bands 7 Year Bitch and Babes in Toyland responded by saying, "Tell us the flight number and what time to be on stage."
But finding a venue was a problem, and things grew complicated. The show will take place at the Cameo Theatre on Miami Beach between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Friday because the room will be otherwise occupied after that. Such a tight schedule forced Kapin to drop one of the five bands scheduled A Demonomacy, the thrashing all-female trio from South Miami. "We feel slightly betrayed," two of the members say, speaking on a conference call. "We worked really hard for this show. All our equipment was stolen in a break-in, so we had to scramble to get our act together. Then we went to Y&T one day and saw the flyer for the show. Our name wasn't on it." Even so, the Demons plan to attend the event: "It's for the cause."
It wouldn't be surprising if you know a shabby doll. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, citing federal government and other reports, says that every year four million women are battered so badly by their mates, their "lovers," they require medical attention. Every fifteen seconds a woman is beaten somewhere in this nation, and only God knows how many slapping-arounds go unreported. For nearly 4000 women each year the abuse ends in death. The coalition's advertisement for their 1-900-786-7228 hotline (the ten-dollar charge funds the private, nonprofit organization) features this headline: "He beat her 150 times. She only got flowers once." Beneath the headline is a photograph of the flowers A on her grave.
"It's not black-and-white, not an either/or thing," says Valerie Agnew, drummer for the tough-rock Seattle band 7 Year Bitch, which will travel to Miami this week solely to play at the benefit concert. "Sometimes there are financial reasons and drug addiction and mental illness. But women have to take some responsibility. Get your shit together, figure out what you want, and take control of your life. Sure, women are part of it. It takes two. I'm not saying men can be absolved. But some women are afraid to leave the man because the change might be to something even worse. Sometimes children are involved. Plus there's that thought the man will come and find them and kill them."
The members of 7 Year Bitch (whose original lead guitarist, Stefanie Sargent, died in June 1992 after consuming alcohol and heroin) were tight with another Seattle band, the Gits, a smart quartet consisting of three guys fronted by a remarkable singer named Mia Zapata. On July 9, 1993, Zapata and the band were supposed to return to the studio to add some vocal tracks to their second album. But the night before, Zapata was strangled, her mangled body found in the streets of Seattle.
Agnew and her bandmates joined with other Seattle groups to record a compilation album, perform benefits, and back a new organization called Home Alive. They hired a private investigator to find the killer of Mia Zapata. And they've made a concerted effort to help Seattle shelters for battered women obtain enough funding to stay open. Money raised at the Miami concert is to be divided among a shelter in the hometowns of 7 Year Bitch and headliners Babes in Toyland (from Minneapolis), as well as South Florida's shelters and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "This is something that's a nationwide problem," Agnew says, "so anything we can do is cool."
The members of the two local bands on the bill, Jack Off Jill and Livid Kittens, share that sentiment. "Domestic violence affects 50 percent of women, and with our band being 100 percent women, we felt it needs to be dealt with," says Jack Off Jill's Jessicka. "We're not for benefits, but when we heard about this, we jumped on it. We took this one because it affects us at home. It's something I understood in my teen years. You can add me to the 50 percent."
Promoter Allyson Kapin notes that female publishers, visual artists, and referral-service representatives will be on hand to help the bands spread the message that it's not okay for a man to hit a woman. Ever. For any reason. And it's not okay for a woman to allow herself to be attacked. "These are female role models," Kapin says of her fellow messengers. "If these women can do it, if they're doing okay, so can you. If that's what you really want."
Adds Jessicka: "People these days still seem to have the illusion that it's okay to hit someone you love. It's not. Women have been treated really poorly, not because they're the 'weaker sex,' but because the information isn't there for them to see that it's not okay. And you can't just say, 'Go to a shelter,' because women get turned away every day. I don't know what they should do. If there was more money, then I would know: Go for help immediately."
Livid Kittens, like the Gits in Seattle, is a band of men fronted by a charismatic female singer, Paige. The local group's bass player, Dave Heikkinen, says he's happy some males will have a part in the concert. "When Allyson lost the original venue and had to drop a band, it was between us and Demonomacy. In fact, we were going to open for them. Allyson was frank about it A it was because we had guys in the band. We pleaded with her. We support any anti-domestic violence thing. We're disgusted with it. It's not just a 'girl thing.' A lot of our songs, I guess you'd say the point of view is pro-female, and Paige is the voice; we just play."
The bassist's sister, Jane Heikkinen, runs the Glass House, a private counseling service in Broward County where Dave himself works with troubled adolescents. His sister's endeavor also includes counseling men sent there by the courts after being arrested for battering their mates. "Our family-violence program addresses both the abuser and the abused," she adds. "And the abusers can come back for free any time for further help. Several have, which is encouraging."
She believes the music of her brother's band A the music of Babes in Toyland and 7 Year Bitch and Jack Off Jill and others A might actually be at the heart of possible solutions to living-room violence. "I think it's important that the new generation of kids gets the education, the awareness that domestic violence is so big," Heikkinen says. "I'm not a big feminist, and I know some songs are benign, but the slap-her-in-the-face kind of things A well, Dave's band is cautious of that. If the next generation can learn that it's not okay, any time you can touch the next generation, you're always going to do better."
When U2 played the Hollywood Sportatorium several years ago, Bono stopped the show because he saw a guy in the crowd slap a girl. At the Tobacco Road anniversary party last year a man pushed a woman against a car and screamed repeatedly in her face. The other night outside a club on South Beach, a woman was seen running down the street, leaving behind a trail of blood. Perhaps, some might argue, the energy of the music can be as harmful as it sometimes is helpful. "Music does more good than bad," says Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland. "Most of the time, I've discovered, with music that's really popular it doesn't make any difference what the lyrics are. But a lot of that music should not even be played because it's so racist and sexist. It's like it's cool, it's status to be nasty and mean. That's not to say it should all be 'the sun is shining and grass growing.' But it can be more positive, therapeutic. If some musicians are yelling and screaming their heads off, it doesn't always mean they're angry. It doesn't mean we hate because we play aggressively. For us it's a release to play that kind of music, instead of punching out windows or other people. The violent person must admit he has a problem. Usually it's the way they were raised, they became used to it. You must realize you have a problem, and you have to want to do something about it."
In 1970 the first shelters for battered women opened around the nation. Miami's Safespace began operating in 1977, in a location kept secret so the abused could not easily be hunted down. In 1978 Reed Memorial Hospital on NE 79th Street closed. It became a hangout for druggies and such, a shithole. Seven years ago Metro-Dade put a million dollars into renovating the space and made it the headquarters of Advocates for Victims, of which Safespace is one part. Today Safespace has 63 beds, plus eighteen more at its South Dade location. There is no charge for its services. "We're almost always full," says Advocates director Robert Schroeder. "In fact, this is the first month in two years that we're not full. But we're close." The fact that shelters are often packed should not discourage the battered from seeking help; it should encourage everyone to build more places of safety. The phone number at Safespace is 758-2546.
Barbero of Babes in Toyland lives in Minneapolis, where she and the other two members of the band recorded Spanking Machine for Twin/Tone, before being signed to Reprise and achieving much acclaim, critical and popular, for records such as Fontanelle and Painkillers. Barbero says the band is "really excited" about the Miami show, because "it's for a good cause." And then she mentions something that happened recently. "In my neighborhood, there were all these houses, like four blocks away from me, crack houses. I kept thinking, God I wish they'd tear them down. For seven months I kept hoping they'd tear them down. Well, they've torn down nine of the houses. I was so happy. I was walking by there the day before yesterday and I saw construction going on. I asked the workers what was going to be built there. They said the Harriet Tubman House for Abused Women. I went, 'Yeah!' I was so excited. They're tearing down crack houses and building a big shelter for battered women. The first thing I thought was that we'll do a local benefit show for it."
Babes in Toyland, 7 Year Bitch, Jack Off Jill, and Livid Kittens perform at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) at the Cameo Theatre, 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 673-9787. The donation is $8. Ticketmaster will add an additional charge at the door.
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