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Domestic Violence: Economy Shrinking, Abuse Growing

Friday, April 22, 2011


In 2010, there were 13 lives lost in Rhode Island related to domestic violence.  Whether homicides or suicides, it is not a number anyone wants to linger over.

If you want to lay some blame for that statistic on the state’s current fiscal problems, you would probably be correct, says Deb DeBare, executive director of the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

While vocal and largely peaceful rallies against RI’s fiscal woes and varied plans to solve them draw loud crowds and media attention, there is a violent impact of the recession taking place largely out of sight and out of mind.  And the funds needed to counteract this trend are being cut back every year.

Financial Strain

“We have seen a spike in the numbers of families and victims in general of domestic abuse in the past year,” said DeBare. “Also in the severity and types of domestic violence.  In 2010 we had the largest ever number of homicides – 13 - here in Rhode Island, that have been linked to domestic violence.”

In a recent blog on the Coalition’s Web site, DeBare cited a national study by the US Department of Justice “found that financial strain, employment (or unemployment) and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods all impact partner violence…researchers in one study found that couples experiencing high levels of financial strain were three times more likely to be experiencing domestic violence that couples experiencing low levels of financial strain.”

The numbers speak for themselves.  RICADV and its six member agencies offer an array of services such as a hotline; counseling services; shelters; and education and awareness sessions that annually come in contact with tens of thousands Rhode Islanders.

Largest Numbers Ever in RI - A Horror

The number of clients served directly rose to 10,410 people, a 6.5 percent increase from 2009, and the largest number ever seen in RI.  And don't forget the 13 lives lost.

“We don’t have a cure for it,” said DeBare. “It’s a horror.”

In 2010, in the criminal justice arena, the front lines of domestic violence:

  • 3,401 victims obtained Temporary Restraining Orders
  • 4,387 victims of abuse were assisted by a Court Advocate in District Court
  • 8,408 domestic violence calls received police response
  • 5,691 domestic violence arrests were made


Funding on Downslope

But the funding is on a downhill slide even as the numbers needing help rise.

In 2007, the total funding spent on domestic violence (including the budgets of all six of the member agencies plus the Coalition itself) was $6,701,487.  This began a slow slide yearly

through 2010, to a total $6,132,173.  DeBare says that this falloff was “buffered” by $200,000 received the past two years through the federal Violence Against Women Act, supported in part by the American Resource and Recovery Act stimulus funding.

The Coalition also pieces together grants from local foundations, corporate sponsorships and donors – any which way they can.

While the federal allocation for the next fiscal year is unknown, at least for the next 30 days, the going trend in all budgets in Washington is a 2.7 percent cut, so hopes are not high for anyone to ride to the rescue in D.C.

The bulk of the reduction has come from state cuts, which have fallen 60 percent since 2009.  

Severe Cuts

Three years ago, RICAVD had a $425,000 grant from the Supreme Court for victim advocacy services. Today, that contract is $191,000. In that same time period, the Coalition had a $300,000 community service grant with the state Department of Human Services for help given for children who witness domestic violence. Today, that same grant totals $138,000.

“People don’t realize how severe the budget cuts have been,” said DeBare. ‘We haven’t heard anything yet from the General Assembly or governor about this year's funding.  It makes me nervous.”

The overall economic situation in Rhode Island adds to the concern, a societal cross-cutting where financial stability may provide the only hope.

“Financial stress in the relationship may also have an impact on keeping victims of abuse in a dangerous situation, because the victim who has few economic resources, and few sources of financial stability may feel that the benefits of staying in a stable housing situation or being able to provide food/ clothing for her children based on her partner's income may outweigh the risks of staying in the abusive relationship,” DeBare wrote in her blog.

A Glass Half-full?

Is there a future prognosis for the trend of escalating violence and a slumping economy and financial outlook?

“It has been an incredibly challenging year,” said DeBare.  “The shelters and agencies are impassioned and doing their best.  But the needs are greater and more complex because of the economy…it is much harder to find resources and a place to stay” for victims of domestic violence.”

"But don’t get me wrong, I am a glass-half-full kind of person,” DeBare added. “I’m sure there will be creative solutions found we can’t even envision now for our problems.”

If not, 13 will have indeed been an unlucky number.

(The six women’s resource centers that make up the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence are: the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, Sojourner House, Women’s Resource Center of Newport & Bristol Counties, Women’s Center of RI, and the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County.)

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