DoVES helps victims of domestic violence

Debbie Pennell Duncan, executive director of DoVES, displays an educational poster she uses when working with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Debra Romero, administrative assistant for DoVES, looks through some of the containers of lettuces that were donated to the facility for the residents.












Submitted by Mary Winder

Area residents may think that domestic violence and sexual assault are problems for folks in other places, surely not here in northeast Kansas. The fact is that domestic violence and sexual assault do take place in our midst. DoVES in Atchison is a place where people from our area can go if they need help to escape from this abuse and assault.

DoVES, an acronym for Domestic Violence Emergency Services, provides help and support to people who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault in the counties of Nemaha, Atchison, Brown and Doniphan. This organization provided service to over 800 people in 2016.

The mission statement of DoVES reads:

“Doves, Inc. believes that all people have the right to live without violence or the fear of violence. To preserve that right, our mission is to provide immediate safety and shelter for individuals whose lives have been affected by domestic violence and sexual assault; to empower victims to become survivors, regaining control of their lives and realizing their individual potential which violence has threatened to destroy.”

The executive director of DoVES is Debbie Pennell Duncan, 61, a former Doniphan County resident whose husband abused her years ago when she was a young woman. Duncan was able to find the strength to escape from her abuser then. Now, her firsthand experience with an abusive spouse has helped her in her work with those who come to DoVES for assistance.

“When I sit across the table from these women, I can honestly say, ‘I’ve been there’ and ‘I know how you feel,’” Duncan said. “Because I have been there myself. I was one of those women 45 years ago.”

Duncan is an R.N. who also has a degree in psychology, has worked as executive director of DoVES for four years and in outreach at the facility for four years before that. She was formerly the domestic violence and sexual assault specialist for the counties of Doniphan, Brown and Nemaha. She stresses that one of the first goals of DoVES is to keep the people who come there safe.

The DoVES residents stay in a large house in a residential area of Atchison, strategically located near both the Atchison Police Department and Atchison County Sheriff’s Department Duncan notes that officers from both departments frequently patrol the area where the house is located to keep the residents safe from the violent individuals they are seeking to escape.

Those who come to the DoVES home to live are all women and children. Duncan explains that when men who have been victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault contact the facility for assistance, she picks them up, arranges for them to stay in a hotel overnight, and finds another appropriate shelter for them in a larger, nearby city.

The Atchison DoVES house has a capacity of 20 people, which can include up to 10 children. A new resident of the DoVES house is given about a two-week period of time in which to “settle in.” The DoVES staff members assist the residents by providing them with resources to help them get their lives back on a positive track. Most people spend between 30 and 90 days in the program.

“Our job is to empower them, not enable them,” Duncan said, noting that she has expectations of those who come to the DoVES house asking for help.

Duncan explains that the residents set weekly goals and attend support meetings. There is a resource book containing information on various topics the residents can use such as options for daycare, education, employment, housing, transportation, health, counseling, social services, basic needs, community resources and much more. The DoVES staff works closely with other agencies to assist the residents.

DoVES offers a variety of programs for those who seek assistance. Classes in domestic violence, anger management and parenting are available. Crisis counseling, both in individual and group settings, is also offered. Court advocacy is available for those who need it. There is also an outreach team that educates people about domestic violence and sexual assault and options for those who are victims of these.

A Recovery in Progress Services program provides counseling and resources to people who are incarcerated, and a Rapid Response Team quickly assesses and assists people who have suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse. An After Care Program assists former residents who have completed the program make a transition from the DoVES house to a healthy, independent, abuse-free life.

While living at the DoVES house, residents are asked to follow rules and help with chores. There is an 11 p.m. curfew. There are consequences if the rules are not followed.

“After three write-ups (for breaking the rules), I assist them in finding another place to go,” Duncan said.

Duncan, who is a native of Troy, notes that she and the other staff members at DoVES are able to help many of the residents find success through the DoVES program, but not all of the stories end that way.

“Some of the women do go back to their abusers,” Duncan said. “Especially if the woman has children, she may go back because she feels she isn’t able to take care of them by herself. People wonder why these women can’t just leave. But, it’s easier said than done sometimes.”

Sherry Dunn began DoVES in 1980 by setting up a hotline in her Atchison home. The program has been funded by the federal and state government, with each of the participating counties also contributing money toward the cost of operating the facility.

Duncan explains that a decrease in funding from the government has become a challenging issue for DoVES.

“The state and federal funding we receive has been cut drastically in recent years, and it was especially bad in 2016,” she said, noting that the counties served by DoVES continue to be very giving. “Our mission now is to keep the shelter open. This is the only shelter of this type in northeast Kansas.”

Doniphan County Attorney Charles Baskins is a firm believer in DoVES.

“I think the DoVES program provides a valuable resource to vulnerable citizens of our county,” he wrote in a recent e-mail. “The support and shelter provided is a great safe harbor for victims of domestic violence. When I have a victim of domestic violence in court, I refer them to the program to try and meet any need that they may have to improve their situation.”

“I recommend the county commissioners fund the program every year when the budget is being discussed,” he said. “The program provides a valuable service to those who oftentimes need assistance the most.”

It is clear, also, that Duncan believes in DoVES and its importance to the citizens of our area.

“My goal is to uplift and empower people,” she said. “It is a never-ending job and I take it very seriously. I am very passionate about my work. I love what I do! I absolutely do! I breathe it and I live for it!”

Duncan stresses that donations of money and items have always been important to the DoVES program, but these are even more vital in view of the funding shortages the facility is facing.

A list of donation items can be found at 

Anyone who would like to donate items to the DoVES program may drop these off at the Dispatch Center at Sabetha City Hall at 805 Main Street, or at DoVES in Atchison. Please call the DoVES office at 913-367-0365 to make arrangements if you’d like to drop off items in Atchison or to obtain a more complete list of donation needs. Checks may be made payable to DoVES and may be mailed to DoVES at Box 262 Atchison, KS 66002.

The DoVES hotline telephone numbers are 1-800-367-7075 or 1-913-367-0363. The business telephone number for DoVES is 1-913-367-0365. Phones are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The e-mail address for DoVES is, and the website address is 

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in The Kansas City Chief.

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  • Keysha Hathaway Reply

    May 18, 2017 at 6:05 am

    The only reason they do not have funds or supplies is because they are pocketing them. They use them to pay their own bills. By lying saying that they’re paying people they hire wages. I am owes $2000 in wages. I saw NO MONEY used for supplies. I and another employee bought in supplies threw our own pockets. This lady deb Duncan is evil. Uses victims to lie about the condition and treatment so hey may live on extensions . most the women have government issued monthly income stamps. These women buy all there own supplied and Hygiene’s. They have tons of hygienes tons of clothing but no cleaning supplies and only food is from donors. Any donations that is worth a damn they take home. And she’s lying she’s not a victim. She’s a abuser. She mental abuses the shelter victims her staff and even her boyfriend. Who she has grown children with. She been with him sense she was 15 so when was she ever a victim. And the asst director is her grand daughter who is in professional and by he executive directors own mouth is a abuser also. Her grandmother deb Duncan admits debra abuses her own children. Mentally and physical and has had the division of family and children investigate her. These women do not deserve to be in charge of any funds or peoples jobs wages nor in charge of a battered family’s lives. I’m using my REAL NAME NOT A USERNAME. I AM AIMING FOR THE WAGES AND punitive DAMAGES FROM NOT RECEIVEING MY WAGES RESULTING IN MY VERY OWN LOSE OF A HOME VEHICLE COLLEGE CLASSES TUTION. AS WELL AS THEM REPLACED BY REAL PEOPLE WHO WANT TO HELP WHO HAS compassion AND EMPHATIC TO HESE WOMENS HEALING PROCESS. I FIRST HAND BEEN TOLD ITS NO BETTER THAT STAYING WITH THEIR ABUSERS

  • Keysha Hathaway Reply

    May 15, 2017 at 3:45 am

    These two women are theives liars and disloyal. Do not fall for their lies and mnipulation. The use the victims as well as their employees

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