Abuse in US homes rising



Battered US women seeking refuge at the Haven of Religious Community Services in Clearwater, Florida, used to stay an average of 25 days.

These days it's closer to 45 days - all the shelter allows - but many feel the time limit should be further extended.

"It used to be that people would find jobs and get on their feet and find a place to live," said Christine Warwick, who directs the haven. "Now we end up keeping people even longer."

This makes it harder for the haven to take in others.

The depressed economy is swamping Tampa Bay domestic violence shelters with victims of abuse. As the recession pushes more families out of work and into foreclosure, experts worry they are seeing more domestic violence.

At the Spring, in Hillsborough County, the number of women seeking help went from the usual 90 to 95 a month to 196 in October. And the stories they tell are more violent.

"One would assume that one thing driving this is increased stress over the economy," said Joanne Olvera Lighter, the Spring's president.

"Because domestic battery is about power, when you're standing on a shrinking iceberg of what you can control, some people might tend to lash out."

But while financial stress might play a role, shelter administrators say it no more causes abuse than alcohol or drug abuse does.

"Abusers are abusers before this," Warwick said. "Plenty of people lose their jobs and don't abuse their spouses."

That said, problems with money and housing can exacerbate domestic violence.

Violence can escalate when abusers lose jobs and spend more time at home.

Victims who lose jobs might be blamed and attacked as a result. Conversely, if victims take on more work to support the family their abusers might suspect they are having affairs.

Once in a shelter it's harder to leave because affordable housing and jobs are scarce.

In October the haven saw 34 victims come in - twice as many as in October 2007. It's an unhappy statistic that could get worse.