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Abuse shelter head turns to violence and abuse

By Carey Roberts
web posted July 14, 2008

The domestic violence industry operates under the cloak of secrecy and anonymity, maintaining such policies are necessary to shield victims from their abusers. But every now and then a crack appears in the façade, revealing a sordid panorama of corruption, fraud, and abuse.

On February 28, 2007 the Naples, Fla. citizenry opened their morning newspapers to the jolting headline, "CEO Out at Women's Shelter: Investigation into Battery Complaint Prompts Departure." Over the next several months, details would spill out of a woman's rights activist who had evolved into a self-serving "tyrant," as one of her colleagues later described her.

The charges surrounded Kathy Herrmann Catino, a former victim of domestic violence and director of the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

Fifteen years ago Ms. Catino took over the helm of the debt-ridden shelter. She worked tirelessly and proved to be a skilled rainmaker, growing the shelter into a 60-bed facility with a $3.5 million budget, 52 staff members, and 276 volunteers.

But her crusade took on messianic overtones. Believing she was the savior of women, Catino set out to control the Board of Directors and even the personal lives of her employees.

"Kathy Herrmann-Catino ruled as the queen of the fortress she built for too long," revealed one woman, adding she "was obsessed with the need to control her subordinates and others in the community, and her obsession grew as the Shelter grew."

"As long as you did as you were told by her, it was all good. Don't do as you're told or have a mind of your own, and there were problems," explained another associate, adding that the shelter director "hates men."

One saw her as a Captain Queeg in a pantsuit: "You could see the self-satisfaction in her big round eyes and the little smile on her lips whenever she broke a spirit and made an employee cry."

"I've witnessed and been a victim of her abusive style," revealed a former board member. "She openly admits her son is an abuser …Now we know where he learned it."

Catino went so far as to monitor employees' after-hours pursuits. Paul Vincent Zecchino revealed, "she would check on your home life and [find out] if you did not live your life outside of work as she thought you should."

And as if that wasn't enough, "Your condition of employment then required you to go to counseling and report that you went," the man wrote. "The counselor you went to was one that she would pick for you."

Is this beginning to sound a little like Soviet psychiatry?

Election Day, 2006 marked the beginning of the end. Believing that advancing social change was part of the shelter's mission, she sent an email to her staff instructing them to inform her whether they had voted.

But a few scofflaws did not respond. So the next day an infuriated Catino broadcast this warning: "OK – you are the folks who have not responded to my several requests for information regarding whether or not you voted on Tuesday. This is your CEO talking – the one who approves your pay check…Testing 1, 2, 3, anyone out there? Please respond."

The message was clear: If you don't come clean with the Commissar of Truth, your paycheck might be delayed, or worse.

Problem was, Florida law prohibits voter intimidation. For that misstep, Catino was arrested, booked, and released on bond.

The worst was yet to come.

Three months later Catino decided one of the shelter employees had crossed her one too many times. She wanted an underling to do the dirty work, but the employee refused to go along with the gig. When the tearful woman tried to walk out of the shelter, Catino grabbed her by the arm and yanked her around.

Legally this counts as assault. The security cameras captured the entire incident. Two weeks later, Kathy Catino was history.

The most insightful commentary came from a former associate who revealed, "In reality, Kathy's very sad life was never healed – it was only a mask she wore – a role she played. She was angry and unhealed, which is why she loved wallowing in her abuse."

A year later, whatever came of the former shelter director?

Pay a visit to the website of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for the legalization of homosexual marriage in the state of Virginia. Cathy Catino is now the deputy director of the organization.

The website proudly states Catino "served as CEO of a FL shelter program for nearly fourteen years…While in Naples, Kathy started an outreach program for LBGT people who were victims of partner violence and routinely sheltered gay, lesbian, and transgender people in her program."

Long live the Revolution. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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