Women & children fleeing domestic violence tripled at one shelter
"We have an incidence of domestic violence that is without precedent," says Marta Pelaez, president of Family Violence Prevention Services in San Antonio. They run 16 programs for women and families fleeing domestic abuse. She says one of those is a shelter where the population has tripled since 2007. At present, they're getting very close to reaching capacity.
Right now they have "186 mothers and children at this shelter alone," says Pelaez, noting that five years ago that figure was in the 60s. She would like to think the dramatic increase is the result of better education and outreach, with more abused women feeling confident enough to leave an abusive relationship earlier than before. In reality, she suspects it has more to do with the economy.
"The severity of the abuse is no different than before," she says, noting that more people started coming to Family Violence Prevention Services following the start of the Recession and ongoing economic slump back in 2008.
Pelaez's shelter here in San Antonio is not the only place this is happening. Some of the largest domestic violence shelters in Dallas and Tarrant counties report similar surges in the numbers of women and children seeking help. Some have already run out of space and started putting families up at hotels or finding other homes to host them. Pelaez says that no matter the cost or strain, they will never turn anyone away. "We will accommodate people in hotels, my home," she says. "We will do something before we send someone in harm's way."
Providing shelters and these kinds of support services is just part of the fight against the ground swell of domestic abuse around the country. Social worker and Howard University Professor Tricia Bent-Goodley says to make real progress against this kind of violence, we need to start early. "We have to begin to talk to young people about what it means to be in a healthy relationship," says Bent-Goodley, "and when a relationship goes awry, what do you do, who do you turn to and where do you go."
Bent-Goodley delivered a lecture at UTSA's Downtown Campus Monday night noting the increased focus on domestic violence by community and social organizations. "I'm beginning to see more of a focus within many of our faith-based communities to respond to domestic violence," she says. "I think they're beginning to see that many of their congregants, their members are really struggling with this issue."