John Etchemedy is executive director of Safe Embrace, a domestic abuse shelter program based in Sparks.
What got you into this kind of work?
I grew up with domestic violence. It’s part of my story, part of my childhood. My mother was treated horribly by my stepfather. And as I got older, in high school, it got pretty bad and she started drinking a whole lot. … There was always yelling. The kids, we just stayed out of the house. We just avoided it. We were outside most of the time. The neighbors used to feed us. We’d just avoid going home. My mother, between drinking and depression, and just second-guessing herself, being told that she had no value, that she wasn’t intelligent—we were all bombarded by an oppressor in our home. … Depression led her to attempted suicide a couple of times, depression and substance abuse. You can imagine teenagers trying to go to school and deal with with all that normal stuff … and then you are trying to avoid your home.
Do you ever encounter people who say, “But you’re a man. What are you doing in this position?”
Rarely. From time to time. … I think that there should be. I think it’s healthy to question the motives of any guy who’s running a woman’s shelter or wants to work on women’s issues. Especially the women who’ve led the fight for so many years, they’ve earned the right to ask, “Why now? Who are you? Where are you coming from? What are your intentions?”
What’s the size of the program?
Last year we responded to about 1,100 victims locally. And by “responded” I mean we answered our hotline all hours of the night and day. … Those aren’t even the repeat numbers. Those are the unique clients. We provided them information about how to access a temporary protection order, a TPO, where they could go for certain services. We offered them mental health service—we have a counselor on staff … Our shelter’s small. It’s a 15-bed shelter. Its the only pet-friendly shelter in all of Northern Nevada. … So you don’t have to abandon an animal with someone who—you know, if someone’s going to be physically violent with a child or his wife or girlfriend, the pet’s in some danger, too. So that’s one nice thing.
Plus the pet’s got to be some comfort to the sheltered family, too.
Sure, absolutely. … You know what’s interesting? What’s fascinating? Right now we’re selling tickets to an Aces game where we get a little bit of a cut on the tickets, and we’re trying to do a gala and we’re trying to sell tables at a holiday gala. And the response when I said, “I’m building a pet kennel. Can anybody donate money, time?”—the response came flooding in, flooding in. I mean, absolutely a torrent. It was the easiest ask I’ve ever made. And I ask every day—we need funds, we need support, we need volunteers. You’re talking puppies and kittens, and people are bending over backward, and I think there’s a really fascinating thing to talk about with regard to victim-blaming mentality. A woman or a man who stays with an abusive partner—it’s their fault, for staying. They should have just left. And it ignores the complexity of this, the reality of this situation, that these actual, individual humans are in. In my own case, my mother refused to leave because—and it sounds silly, I guess—but she’d failed on her first marriage. She wasn’t about to fail on her second. She believed she was at fault. … There’s so many factors. There’s so many reasons why people stay, and they’re legit reasons—that when people would hear the individual cases, they go, “Oh, I kind of get it.” But when folks look at the issue on a whole, versus a dog or a cat that’s abused, it’s easy.