ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : New Focus on Battered Wives

Several weeks ago a shelter for battered women opened in South County. Two days later the facility, known as Laura's House, was full.

For all its wealth and pleasant lifestyle, Orange County cannot escape society's problems, which is why Laura's House and the other shelters for abused women are needed.

Laura's House, with room for 16 women and children, was established after a three-year fund-raising effort, augmented by a $420,000 state grant.

Abuse shelters can be controversial when they open, as the "not in my back yard" philosophy prompts opposition from neighbors worried about damage to property values or angry spouses showing up to seek revenge. To help counter those kinds of worries and to help provide a more cheerful atmosphere for women seeking help, Laura's House has wisely enlisted community support. A florist sends flowers weekly and a neighborhood baker chips in with fresh muffins.

Women accepted at the shelter are given counseling and help finding jobs. That is important, because many women have to find the courage to leave an abusive spouse and search for a job after being out of the workplace for years.

The problem of spousal abuse has received renewed attention in the aftermath of the acquittal of O.J. Simpson on charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman. Trial testimony and ugly pictures dramatized Simpson's threats and physical abuse of his wife.

Nicole Brown Simpson's parents live in Dana Point, and the foundation they established in her memory has contributed money to Human Options, which operates two shelters for battered women in the county. Those working to help abuse victims say more facilities are needed because women seeking help often can be housed only for several weeks.

The Simpson trial and recent candlelight vigils in memory of Nicole Brown Simpson have increased awareness of the problem of abused women. The attention is warranted, as are concrete means of assistance such as the new shelter in South County.

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