domestic abuse Pittsburgh

50 years after opening, Pittsburgh’s Women’s Center & Shelter remains a powerful resource for anyone facing domestic abuse

The WC&S lit the city in purple to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Photo by Emmanual Fine Art Photography.

The Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh works with hundreds of women each year to provide safety and support throughout the journey of surviving domestic violence of all kinds – not just physical abuse by a partner, but also psychological, financial and sexual abuse. Along with providing vital emergency shelter in the Pittsburgh region, they offer everything from supportive phone calls and text chats that are completely private and confidential to therapy services for adults and children, support groups, legal advocacy and much more.

But a half-century ago, the organization’s co-founders began by simply creating a safe place where women could talk with each another.

“In the early 70’s, there weren’t really places for women to gather and just kind of be,” says Nicole Molinaro, who serves as president and CEO of the Women’s Center & Shelter. “So our founders Anne Steytler and Ellen Berliner noticed that and they started gathering people.”

Steytler and Berliner were social workers, skilled at having compassionate, personal conversations and listening with empathy. As they gathered with a growing community of local women, they discovered a heartbreaking reality, Molinaro says: About 40% of the women they met needed a safe place to stay because they were experiencing domestic violence at home.

So at first, they began by offering to let women in crisis stay with them. The need was so great, though, that Steytler and Berliner soon realized “they needed to really create a shelter and additional services like the hotline,” Molinaro says.

“Back in the early 70’s, domestic violence was not talked about,” Molinaro says. “It absolutely was not understood as a pattern of power and control that’s used within a relationship. It was thought of to be kind of a one-time incident.”

People also had the misunderstanding that physical violence was the only thing that qualified as domestic abuse. And many people considered it a private family matter that shouldn’t be discussed publicly, rather than a public health epidemic.

domestic abuse Pittsburgh
CEO Nicole Molinaro (right) with WC&S supporter Jackie Dixon at the Center’s 50th anniversary celebration.

As the Women’s Center & Shelter celebrates its milestone 50th anniversary as one of the first domestic violence support programs in the country, intimate partner abuse remains an issue in far too many women’s lives.

“Domestic violence not only still exists, but actually increased in severity and frequency and complexity during the pandemic,” Molinaro says. “And unfortunately, it hasn’t gone back to the level that it was at before the pandemic, which was still absolutely unacceptably high.”

But here’s the good news: There are more resources and more paths to safety and happiness available to women than ever before.

“There is a groundswell of support for those experiencing domestic violence. And it comes not just from other women and not just from other survivors, but really from the community,” Molinaro says. “As we always say here, love shouldn’t hurt.”

Visit to learn about the many services offered by the Women’s Center & Shelter. The website includes a safety button, which allows you to instantly click away from the site if needed.

“Wherever you are in your relationship — whether you are just trying to figure out if it’s abusive, or whether you are literally fleeing for your life or anywhere in between — we are here to offer help and hope,” Molinaro says. “We have people and we have programs to meet you wherever you are, and to help you get to wherever you want to be.”