For those who haven’t lost their home, their job, or their savings in the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it’s easy to dismiss the tremendous strain that such economic hardship places on families.
The evidence of that strain is showing up in the alarming statistics on the increase in domestic violence across the Iron Range. As we reported last week, abuse and battering, both of children and spouses or domestic partners, has increased steadily in our area since the start of the economic downturn in 2008.
To make matters worse, the increasing tide of victims is inundating social service organizations at a time when they face financial challenges of their own. Range Women’s Advocates, which has served battered women and children since the 1970s, is facing a funding crisis after a federal grant they have long depended on was denied this year due to cutbacks in Washington. At the same time, officials with St. Louis County are focused more on keeping the cost of government down, even as child maltreatment cases have jumped by 57 percent since 2009.
In the short-term, we must address the gap between the current need for aid to victims and the available resources. The loss of federal funds to Range Women’s Advocates (which amounts to 65 percent of their annual budget) could not have come at a worse time. That gap in funding is going to have to be made up, either from state, county, or local sources. At the same time, county officials need to understand that the increase in child maltreatment cases may require some additional funds as well. Short-term cost-cutting only goes so far, and can easily lead to higher costs down the road.
It’s that longer-term that should concern us all. While the economy is certainly part of the explanation for such increases in abuse and battering, it’s probably only one of several factors. We need to understand more about all of the factors contributing to the problem of family violence. While it’s certainly important to assist the victims of abuse, it’s far less costly in the long-term to address the causes of the problem, rather than simply treat the symptoms. Those symptoms go well beyond broken bones and bruises. Study after study has demonstrated that the effects of domestic abuse manifest themselves in many ways over the long-term, including greater health problems, more depression, lower self-esteem, and an increased likelihood of job loss and homelessness.
We need to address domestic abuse before it happens, by going after root causes.
Unfortunately, the resources necessary to conduct the kind of inquiry needed to develop an effective response are tough to find in government budgets that are under constant pressure to do more with less. And even if such an inquiry were to pinpoint causes, who would pay to address them? The truth is, as a society, it seems we are no longer willing to put up the resources to treat the symptoms, much less pay the higher short-term costs of a longer-term cure.
For now, it’s the victims of domestic abuse who are paying the price for our collective inaction.