« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Jane Ahlin, Published October 29 2011

Ahlin: Considering the economic factor in domestic violence

Nationally, Domestic Violence Awareness Month got off to quite a start this year with news from Topeka, Kan., that the county district attorney had quit prosecuting domestic violence cases. Complaining that his budget had been cut by 10 percent, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said the county was overstretched dealing with an uptick in violent crime related to gang activity; as far as he was concerned, the city of Topeka could use its own resources and municipal court to deal with the problem. Citing its own budget problems, Topeka’s city council saw it differently, voting 7 to 3 to decriminalize domestic violence rather than to take on the burden.

Before the standoff ended, 18 people accused of domestic abuse walked free.

By then, national media had picked up the story, pointing up the moral indefensibility in the attitudes of both county and city officials. Rather quickly, the district attorney changed his tune and announced he would resume prosecuting crimes of domestic violence in Topeka.

However, during the strange standoff, dangerous messages had been sent to those wounded at home by emotional and physical abuse: 1) Domestic violence isn’t a core public safety concern; 2) Legal recourse for victims of domestic abuse is an unaffordable extravagance in tough economic times.

The irony, of course, is that economic stress and domestic violence are directly related: When one goes up, so does the other. The pressures of joblessness and financial insecurity in families are echoed in increased rates of domestic violence.

In a study sponsored by the Mary Kay (cosmetics) Foundation and released last April, 672 shelters across the country were surveyed. Twenty-four percent were from the Northeast, 27 percent from the South, 27 percent from the Midwest, and 22 percent from the West. Among its findings were the following:

Although Minnesota overall hasn’t been as resilient as North Dakota during the economic downturn, the border counties of Clay and Cass have fared better than most regions of the nation; consequently, we would expect our area to be at least partially immune to rising rates of domestic violence.

We would be wrong. Sad to say, the local YWCA emergency shelter reports that in 2006, the percentage of women and children staying in the shelter because of domestic violence was 34 percent. In 2010, the percentage had risen to 61 percent. In the first half of 2011, that percentage was 75 percent. In fact, on the day this past week that I talked to YWCA staff, there were 32 women and 33 children staying in the shelter, and the percentage of residents there because of domestic violence was 75 percent.

No matter our assumptions about the economic health of our area, the percentages have more than doubled since 2006. And because women and children seeking refuge from violence in their homes are never turned away, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the YWCA Emergency Shelter was at or over capacity on 212 days during 2010 or that 23,965 “nights of shelter” were provided – the most ever in the history of the shelter.

How nice it would be if we didn’t need a Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How sobering it is that right here where we live, we do.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.