Domestic violence deaths in Georgia have been on the rise since 2006 at the same time economic difficulties have slowed community giving and donations statewide by 60 percent, according to the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
No one knows that better than Meg Rogers, who manages the Cherokee Family Violence Center in Canton. Rogers was forced to lay off a case manager and three child advocates this year. The skeleton crew still remaining is taking two furlough days a month.
Rogers also had to nix a popular children’s program that provided counseling and mentoring for kids affected by family violence.
“We are having to make some very tough decisions,” Rogers said.
She said the shelter has been operating in excess of 100 percent capacity for two years, and there is at least a six-month waiting list for transitional housing.
Women are asking to stay longer because they can’t find decent paying jobs, which is especially true of victims of domestic violence who lack the skills needed to be competitive in the marketplace. When they aren’t able to become self-sufficient, some women are choosing to go back to their abusers.
“I think their safety is being compromised,” Rogers said. “They may go to the abuser’s family even if they don’t go back to the abuser.”
Studies show abuse is three times as likely to occur when a couple experiences financial strain, said Allison Smith, director of public policy for the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
That may help account for why the state saw the number of fatalities attributed to domestic violence rise from 106 to 131 between 2006 and 2010, at the same time the economy was going sour.
A study released this month by the Violence Policy Center in Washington ranked the state sixth in the nation for the rate at which men kill women, up from No. 10 the previous year. The report was based on statistics from 2009, the most recent year for which FBI data is available.
The state funding for domestic violence programs has remained static at about $4 million a year. But that’s less than a fourth of the $23 million total operating cost needed to keep shelter doors open. The community giving and private donations that have declined once filled the gap, Smith said.
As a result, state-certified domestic violence shelters turned away 2,636 victims and their children because of a lack of available space last year. Meanwhile, they served more than 63,000 nonshelter victims in 2010, an increase of 18 percent over 2009.
In one day, on Sept. 15, 2010, state shelters counted 432 unmet requests for services, with half of those coming from domestic violence victims seeking emergency shelter or transitional housing.
Angeletha Mintah, 46, said she would never have been able to leave an abusive situation if she had not secured student loans.
She used the loan money to purchase a modest mobile home for herself and her five children, and to get a master’s degree in Biblical counseling that enabled her to start her own counseling business.
She sympathizes with women who face economic obstacles to leaving domestic violence situations.
“It’s easy for people on the outside to tell you that you need to just leave,” Mintah said. “But where are you going with five kids, and who is going to help you?”
In Gwinnett County, sheriff’s deputies have been getting fewer requests for temporary protective orders.
Lt. Jeremy Brown believes that illustrates victims’ reluctance to leave their abusers while families are struggling to make ends meet. Last year the deputies served 1,700 temporary protective orders, compared with 2,700 in 2005.
“It’s a lot harder for a woman to break away, especially without somebody helping with the kids,” Brown said.
Another contributing factor to the domestic violence uptick may be the return of soldiers from military deployments who are having trouble readjusting to normal life, said Joyce Goosby, a?professor at the Whitney M. Young Jr. School of ?Social Work at Clark Atlanta University.
Goosby said research indicates there has been a steady increase in homicides since 2007 in places such as Fort Bragg, N.C., and other areas with military facilities — an increase that corresponds with soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Chyna McGarity-Namho, 47, runs a domestic violence prevention group called Purple Casket Campaign.
A former military spouse, McGarity-Nahmo sought refuge and protection at a Fulton County women’s shelter, the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, which provided her a place to stay in addition to child care, counseling, legal advocacy and financial assistance. She said the advocates there were her “guardian angels.”
“I love them to this day and I’m alive because of them,” McGarity-Nahmo said.
The safest way for someone in an abusive relationship to seek help, experts say, is to contact a domestic violence prevention advocate, who can assist them in creating a safety plan.
The first step is to call 1-800-334-2836, a statewide domestic violence hotline that routes callers to their closest state-certified domestic violence program, or visit the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at GCADV.Org.