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‘Economic Control’ Up 40 Percent As Local Domestic Violence Cause

DVstory-003GEighty percent of domestic violence victims using the Women’s Center in Vienna are now citing “financial changes” as a key issue between them and their abuser, a number that’s risen from 40 percent in the last 18 months, said Women’s Center Psychotherapist Susan Folwell, LCSW.

 

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Six-year Women’s Center Psychotherapist Susan Folwell has been working in the industry for 20 years, 13 of which have been devoted to helping end domestic violence. (Photo: News-Press)

 

Eighty percent of domestic violence victims using the Women’s Center in Vienna are now citing “financial changes” during as a key issue between them and their abuser, a number that’s risen from 40 percent in the last 18 months, said Women’s Center Psychotherapist Susan Folwell, LCSW.

“The effects of the economy is now on our mind in a different way than it used to be in the last seven or eight years. We’re definitely seeing an increase in economic control issues coming through our program,” she added.

Kathleen Kelmelis, program manager of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services for Fairfax County, shared the same assessment, confirming its program has received more calls to its hotline and an increased request for counseling services since the height of the economic crisis.

There is a weighing of risk that an abuse victim has to consider. What’s worse? The abuse they endure as long as their children are safe or the uncertainty involved in removing their children and themselves from that situation? – Kathleen Kelmelis

“When the abusive partner is the sole wage earner for a family, there is an element of control that can occur. The abused partner feels less able to consider the option of leaving the situation because of her risk of not being able to take care of herself or her children,” said Kelmelis.

However, less people have been applying for the county’s batterer intervention program, which carries a $420 fee for an 18-week program. Kelmelis said that when money is tight, such spending may be considered a “discretionary cost that a family cannot afford.”

With the reported national unemployment rate at 9.6 percent last month, and many more underemployed, the chance of securing a job is also becoming a deciding factor of whether a victim will leave their abuser.

When jobs are less easily obtained, Kemelis said, the victim is put into a position of having to choose between enduring the abuse or putting their children at risk for homelessness and hunger.

“It’s a tough choice,” she added. “Survival is a strong motivator. There is a weighing of risk that an abuse victim has to consider. What’s worse? The abuse they endure as long as their children are safe or the uncertainty involved in removing their children and themselves from that situation?”

Harsh realities aside, the City of Falls Church Police Department reported last week an overall decrease in their domestic violence numbers, with eight domestic disputes in 2009 compared to 22 in 2008. However, numbers showed a spike in disputes and simple assaults in 2006, the year the U.S. economy began to slow down.

 

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(News-Press Graphic)

 

F.C. Police Captain Richard Campbell said it’s difficult to determine the cause of decrease in the numbers, but that “any abuse is too much.”

Folwell speculated the decline in F.C. Police’s numbers may be attributable to the growing fear and uncertainty abuse victims have about getting the police involved in a worsening economy, especially if their abuser has a security clearance working for the government, she said.

“A lot of clients are reluctant to call police or press charges if their spouse has a clearance because, whether it’s true or not, they’ve been told their spouse will lose their clearance and their job if they do,” said Folwell, adding that an abusive partner often tells their victim they will take the kids if the victim leaves.

“They’ll tell them they’ll take the money if they try, or they’re going to make the court process so long and so hard, they’ll never afford it anyway,” she went on.

Abuse victims in middle-class families are also experiencing trouble obtaining legal counsel, where often they do not qualify for assistance those might receive if they fall below the median income.

“A lot of people want to leave but they can’t afford an attorney, they don’t have any financial means available, and their families and friends also aren’t in any situation to be lending them money. So they choose either not to leave or not to obtain a protective order,” said Folwell.

Three out of four domestic violence shelters report an increase in women seeking assistance from abuse since September 2008. – National Network to End Domestic Violence

Campbell said the most common worry expressed by an abuse victim considering pressing charges against their abuser is the fear of retaliation or escalation of violence, but that the biggest mistake they can make is to either wait to report it the police or decline to report it at all.

Domestic violence victims who visit the Women’s Center do so in confidence and are under no obligation to seek police intervention. Women are sometimes placed into shelters if their situation is “imminently dangerous,” Folwell said, and most shelters are often at capacity.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In addition to domestic violence services, the Women’s Center’s 75 therapists and career counselors provide psychological, education, career and financial and legal resources.

• To report domestic abuse in the City of Falls Church, call 703-241-5050. Confidential calls about domestic abuse can be made to the Women’s Center at 703-281-4928, ext 242. Fairfax County’s Victim Assistance Network 24-hour hotline can be reached at 703-360-7273.

 

Fast Facts: Domestic Violence & the Economy

Statistics released by the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C., as part of its teaching tools for Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, report that the economic downturn “can exacerbate the factors that contribute to domestic violence and reduce victims’ ability to flee.”

1) Three out of four domestic violence shelters report an increase in women seeking assistance from abuse since September 2008.

2) Seventy-three percent of shelters attributed the rise in abuse to “financial issues.” “Stress” and “job loss” (61% and 49%) were also frequently cited as causing the increase in victims seeking shelter.

3) Domestic violence is more than three times as likely to occur when couples are experiencing high levels of financial strain as when they are experiencing low levels of financial strain.

4) Victims frequently report economic needs: In one study, 93% of victims requested help with economic issues and 61% needed three or more of the five kinds of economic help.

5) Women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over a 5-year study were almost three times as likely to be victims of intimate violence as were women whose partners were in stable jobs.

6) According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 92% of victim service providers have seen an increased demand in the last year, but 84% reported that cutbacks in funding were directly affecting their work.

• This information and more can be found by visiting www.nvnedv.org and clicking on the Resources tab.