Economy adds more struggles

STATE COLLEGE — Poor economic conditions are making tough decisions harder for domestic violence victims in Centre County.

In 2008, 30 percent of women who sought shelter at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center went back to their abusers’ homes because they couldn’t find anyplace else affordable to live. That’s a 10 percent increase from 2007.

The Women’s Resource Center has seen funding cuts, both from the federal and state government, in the past year.

And research shows that abusers tend to have more opportunity and more motivation to abuse in this economic climate.

“For the victim, her options become much fewer when the economy is really bad because it’s even harder for a victim to get a job, to keep a job or to have options if she wants to leave the abuse,” said Corey Cook, director of education and outreach for the Women’s Resource Center.Affordable housing scarce

Women feeling forced to return to their abusers because of their financial situation isn’t a new problem.But in the past year, demand for affordable housing has risen, and many women who have outlasted their 30-day maximum stay in the emergency shelter face no other option except homelessness, said Jean Collins, the center’s director of transitional housing.

Only 15 percent of the 151 women who went to the Women’s Resource Center’s emergency shelter in 2008 were able to find affordable housing. Thirty percent of women who came into the shelter went back to abusive situations in order to avoid homelessness, Collins said.

“One huge tactic that abusers use is limiting the victim’s access to finances, and if she can’t find a job, she’ll have even less economic power than she would have anyway.”So let’s say she does manage to find a job that can make ends meet, and an apartment she can afford, but she doesn’t have health care. What if the kids get sick?

“If she goes back to the abuser, he’s got a great job with solid benefits, and the kids need to be insured,” Cook said. “And so she doesn’t have options.”

Collins said she has seen more women who, if they aren’t getting laid off, are having their work hours cut back.“Without that, there’s going to be no way to provide for basic needs for yourself and your kids,” she said. “I anticipate the situation for women fleeing domestic violence is going to get harder.”Power and control

Financial problems lead to abusive behavior, Cook said. Losing a job or house won’t make someone abusive, but being unemployed gives people who are already abusive more opportunities to abuse.

And when the abusers lose financial power or control over their job or income, Cook said, “a lot of times they will increase the domestic violence because they want to gain that feeling of power back.”

“They are using abusive tactics and battering because it helps them to feel power and control,” she said. “And that’s what they want and feel that they deserve.”

Then there is the “help” problem.

Hard economic times have meant a strain on victim services as well, Cook said.

The Women’s Resource Center is facing cuts in funding from the state and federal government that almost always mean a cutback in education and outreach.

“So we’ve got more domestic violence and worse domestic violence, less options for victims and then places like the Women’s Resource Center funding being cut,” Cook said. “And that’s been a huge issue over the last year.”

Sara Ganim can be reached at 231-4616.쇓