Strains of downturn lead to rising domestic abuse
EL CENTRO, California – During tough economic times in California’s Imperial Valley the staff members at the Center for Family Solutions, dedicated to helping domestic violence victims, have as much work as they can handle.
The center is struggling to deal with a rising number of domestic abuse cases and trying to help women – and occasionally men – escape from violent partners. Lgal services director Judith Klein-Pritchard said the surge was a direct result of rising unemployment in the area and the long recession that has battered the U.S. economy.
“Abusive people are often abusive by nature, but there has to be a trigger for them to become violent,” she said. “Perhaps it’s the tension of joblessness that triggers abusive behavior because all of a sudden they don’t know how to control themselves.”
Melinda Opperman, vice president at Springboard, a nonprofit counseling group that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure in Riverside, California – to the north of El Centro and one of hardest hit areas in the country by the housing crisis – said that there was anecdotal evidence that domestic abuse was on the rise in the area.
“We are hearing of children coming into school with bruises,” she said. “The downturn has placed a lot of strain on families.”
Mary Merrill Gutierrez (below), a volunteer who got out of her abusive marriage in 2004 with help from the center, recalled how money was a trigger for her ex-husband to become violent and said that joblessness and a lack of money were leading more men to abuse their wives and children.
“There are so many women now that are learning the depth of their husbands because there is no money coming in,” she said. “And so now a man who normally isn’t violent may become so.”
“A man who has worked his whole life and has always been working for 45, 60 hours a week is home sitting on the couch and basically feeling worthless is going to eventually strike out, verbally, emotionally, physically,” she added. “I’ve heard women who have been married 25 yrs to a wonderful man and a year after he has lost his job they’re here.”
Klein-Pritchard said the center has also been affected by the downturn, as budget constraints in the state of California have meant a 50 percent decrease in funding. The center’s staff has been cut to two from five while the number of people who need help keeps going up.
The center’s shelter for abused women is full and has been for much of the past three to six months and is issuing double the number of restraining orders that it was before the recession – eight a day now compared to four before.
“We find ourselves having to prioritize and trying to work out whether a woman’s life is endangered,” she said. “Everyone needs our help, but we have to start with the most urgent cases first.”
Photos by Lucy Nicholson
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