Myth: Women and men who suffer abuse at the hands of their spouses have an easy solution to their problem. All they have to do is leave.

Fact: Most spouses who are abused have no safe place to go, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Washington. Faced with living on the run or in a violent home, most victims choose to stay with the violence at home.


Shelli Yesenko wants to change that. Ms. Yesenko is the executive director of the Harford County Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC), a private, nonprofit organization that helps victims of abuse receive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance.

Ms. Yesenko hopes to see a shelter built in Harford County that would provide a haven for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.


Harford is one of the few counties in Maryland that doesn't have such a shelter now.

To help fund its crisis counseling and family support programs and, ultimately, the operation of a shelter, SARC will hold an auction from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Bel Air Athletic Club.

Antique furniture, fine art, jewelry and other items will be auctioned.

Admission is $4, and free hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar will be available.

SARC offers counseling, legal advocacy and a 24-hour crisis line to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. It operates at 48 E. Gordon St. in Bel Air.

The organization has an eight-member paid staff and also uses volunteers to answer the crisis line and help with fund-raising and community awareness programs.

Harford County has pledged to provide SARC with a shelter by 1995. With about $600,000 financed by a bond bill, the county will renovate an existing home in an undisclosed location. The county will then rent the shelter to SARC for $1 a year until 2094.

SARC receives state and federal grants to operate as a sexual assault and domestic violence resource center. But Ms. Yesenko said those funds don't cover all of its expenses.


"If we can't raise funds, some of the support programs we offer wouldn't exist," she said. "I'm shooting for $10,000," to be raised Saturday.

"We are the only agency that solely serves victims of domestic and sexual assault," Ms. Yesenko said. "The Department of Social Services and other agencies refer people to us."

Ellen O'Hanlon of the Harford County Mental Health Department said victims of sexual assault are usually referred to the Social Services Department first for help. From there, they may seek private counseling or help through SARC.

"We saw over 1,500 people at SARC last year, about a 35 percent increase over the year before," Ms. Yesenko said.

"Every year we have an increase. It has become a lot more acceptable for people to come forward and seek help. But we know that only one in 10 ever come forward," she said.

Ms. Yesenko said most people who request assistance from her organization are women battered by their spouses or boyfriends.


Neither she nor the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence in Silver Spring, which coordinates the efforts of Harford County SARC and other resource centers in the state, knows how many cases of rape and domestic violence have been reported in the county this year.

State police reported over 16,000 domestic assault cases in 1991. That number, the Maryland Network estimates, is only about 10 percent of the actual domestic assaults.

Susan Mize, executive director of the Maryland Network, said abuse and assault are the result of "institutionalized inequality of women as well as the prevalence and acceptance of violence in our society."

"Violence is a pervasive and life-threatening problem that can only be addressed by concerted and collective social action," Ms. Mize said.

"It's easy to blame victims for their own victimization," Ms. Yesenko said. "We live in a society where it's emphasized that whatever you want to do, you can do. But that doesn't take into account all the barriers -- economic, physical and emotional. It's really hard," she said, simply to walk away from an abusive relationship.

"On top of that, we have this recession. People in good [home] situations can't find jobs. If you've been denied and isolated and haven't had the ability to work, how are you going to make it?"


For information about SARC or the auction, call 836-8430.