USA: Recession Erodes Resources for Domestic Violence Shelters as Violence Increases
Thursday, November 5, 2009 11:15 AM

5 November 2009

Since September 2008, 75 percent of domestic violence shelters in the United States have reported an increase in demand for their services. While this rise in family violence cannot be directly attributed to the recession, experts say that the erosion of the social safety net for victims of domestic violence coupled with the stressor of the economic downturn have contributed to this growing problem.  

Meghan Rhoad, a researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, argues that while economic depression does not cause domestic violence, it does lead to “opportunity violence. If the batterer has become unemployed they have more opportunities to be violent. There is more exposure.” (Women’s eNews)

The erosion of the social safety net for domestic violence shelters further aggravates the increase in people seeking protection from family violence. Budget cuts have resulted in decreasing support for domestic violence support networks in states such as Massachusetts and California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated funding for domestic violence shelters in July 2009. This resulted in a 40 percent loss of funding for California’s 94 non-profits that operate domestic violence shelters, amounting to a $16 million loss; several shelters were forced to close, reduce their available services, and/or layoff staff members.

Immigrant and refugee women who experience family violence are often among the hardest hit. “When these domestic violence service programs, such as shelters, get squeezed it is poor women who are the most affected, including a disproportionate number of immigrant women and women of color," said Rhoad. (Women’s eNews)

Emergency shelters targeted towards immigrant women are overflowing, and there are concerns about whether shelter staff members will be able to speak non-English languages and address specific cultural concerns of women seeking support. Isa Woldeguiorguis, the policy and systems advocacy directory at Jane Doe Inc., a Boston-based group that works to reduce domestic violence, argues that “the hurdles that refugee and immigrant women have to go through to reach safety, liberty, dignity are so much greater than they are for non-immigrant women.” (Women’s eNews)

Compiled from: Bijoyeta Das, Women’s eNews, “Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women” (18 October 2009).