Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.
Domestic violence abuse reports on rise In weak economy, shattered lives get even harder to rebuild
“Throw in the Criminal Rewards of Battering your spouse Taking her children and you have total domination and Genocide! It will take US ALL to CHANGE this!!”
BY MARK CURNETTE • CINCINNATI ENQUIRER • OCTOBER 4, 2009
CINCINNATI -- The stinging pain of her boyfriend's open hand slapping her jaw shot through Angela Lewis' teeth and tongue.
He did it again.
In fact, he hit her every week.
She endured three years of slaps before she decided to leave him.
Lewis is one of hundreds of women trying to escape domestic violence since the economy declined, but their road out of an abusive household takes longer because of the shortages of jobs, housing and money for programs to help them.
Average shelter stays are up, as much as 20 to 35 days in the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter in Hamilton County. Other shelters across the region are at capacity.
On the front end of abuse, the inclination of some men to beat women surfaces because of stress over money.
"(Financial problems) can trigger more outbursts," said Kendall Fisher, Women Helping Women executive director.
On the back end, jobs and housing now are simply harder to come by.
Unemployment peaked at 10.3 percent in Ohio in July and was a seasonably adjusted 10.8 percent in Kentucky in August. Subsidized housing vouchers are limited. The Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority has a waiting list.
Those shortages and delays tempt some women to flee back to the familiar abusive household they're trying to escape.
"The economy makes it much more difficult for victims to get free from abusive partners," said Theresa Singleton, protection from abuse director for the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.
For her part, Lewis stayed with a friend the night her live-in boyfriend threw her out of their Price Hill apartment, dragging her by the hair so viciously that her knees bled. He threw her clothes, including underwear, into the front yard.
Why not end it?
Lewis said she had been clean and sober for almost a year, since the night in April 2008 when she thought she was having a heart attack. The emergency room doctor confirmed her drug and alcohol abuse and told her she was slowly committing suicide. His words scared her straight: "Why not just get it over with?"
Ten months later, her boyfriend had starting using again and lost his job. She had come home from her restaurant job, a job she would soon lose because she said the pace was too fast. He wanted money and snatched her purse. She said no and grabbed it back.
"He pushed me in the chest and knocked me down," Lewis said. "There was a lot of cussing going on."
She picked up some of her clothes from the yard and ran, cradling them against her, down the street to her friend's apartment. Her friend, like the doctor, told Lewis she had a choice: She could start using cocaine and drinking again and die.
"Or I could get help," Lewis said.
She waffled. She wanted to go back, an easier path. Changing her life would be much more difficult: lonely nights in a shelter, staying clean and sober, finding a new job and a place to live, fighting the urge to go back to the man she said she loved, even though he beat her.
Lewis went into the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter on Feb. 26 and stayed for two months. It was a crowded place.
As the economy crumbled and more women sought help, the average stay in shelters in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky increased 20 percent, Lewis was in the shelter for two months. She remembers how "beautiful, like a real home," the shelter was. "It wasn't an institution."
Crying over her plight
Despite the pleasant accommodations, Lewis didn't sleep for three nights. She couldn't eat. She went into her caseworker's office and cried and cried and cried.
Megan Murphy listened for as long as Lewis needed to talk.
" 'This is it,' I said to myself," Lewis said. " 'You really have hit rock bottom.' I thought about saving him. I said, 'Maybe he won't hit me again.' (The shelter) was real scary. It was the last place I thought I ever would be."
She's not alone.
Calls to an emergency line run by Women Helping Women, a Cincinnati-based provider of intervention and support services, increased 68 percent from 829 in the first quarter of 2008 to 1,395 in 2009.
The YWCA is expanding its shelter from 54 to 74 beds and earlier this month learned it would get $492,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to create a temporary housing program and provide cash help for battered women in Clermont County.
The YWCA's Clermont County shelter received 500 calls for help in August. That was up 67 percent from the 300 calls in June.
Domestic violence reports are up across Kentucky and Ohio, reflecting the national trend since the start of the recession in December 2007.
A battered woman often leaves with just the clothes on her back. Lewis left behind the bedroom, dinette and living room furniture she struggled to buy - given misdemeanor theft and bad-check convictions from the 1990s that still hang over her.
"I had to support my habit," she said. "I made mistakes."
Their substance abuse was common in violent relationships. About 20 percent of abused women use booze or drugs. Some 60 percent of batterers drink.
"Drugs and alcohol made me feel numb," she said.
Now out of the shelter, Lewis lives in temporary housing. She has a small kitchen, bedroom and bath - sparse but safe.
"I'm learning to live alone and be by myself," she said. "I'm learning I don't need to be with a man."
Lewis is attending Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings several times a week, earned her GED last month and is trying to find a job and permanent place to live.
She is getting job training in the Women's Work program and the temporary apartment, both thanks to the YWCA. Lewis has been referred to Dress for Success, which provides professional clothing to poor women to re-enter the workplace. Lewis has written her résumé and handed it out on a dozen job interviews. She is checking out apartments.
Despite her problems, Lewis might be in a better position than many abused women.
Her son and three daughters, ages 24 to 34, are grown. She doesn't have to worry about child-care and school schedules. She was not married, so there is no divorce to figure out. She has a work history and experience in the restaurant business.
Lewis has a car. She frequently can't afford gas and repairs so she takes the bus. Goodwill has a program that might fix her brakes. Her oldest child, daughter Ivy Lewis Ivory, 34, of Colerain Township, gave her mother a small television for her apartment. She meets her mom every Saturday morning and fills up the gas tank of her car.
Lewis' children have offered to do more.
"I tried to get her to move in; we have four bedrooms," Ivory said. "She always says she doesn't want to take our attention away from raising our families."
Lewis has eight grandchildren.
"My children know what I have been through and what I have done," she said. "I don't want my grandchildren to know me that way."
Lewis got pregnant as a sophomore at Hughes and did not graduate from high school. She had three more children with the same man, who beat her. He served prison time for domestic violence, drug trafficking and drug possession.
The man, whom Lewis never married, punched her with a closed fist, splitting her eye and causing a cut that extends from her eye down her cheek to the corner of her mouth, she said.
"He was stable financially, and my mother had four children," the daughter said. "She took it because she needed to feed her children, send them to school and keep a roof over our heads. I remember my mom before she touched anything (drugs and alcohol). She always put us first."
The process is long and arduous, but, as a woman who grew up in an abusive household and was beaten by two men, Lewis said she is growing each day and determined to live differently.
"I've never known normal," she said. "I want to be normal."
Two major goals
Most of Lewis' time has been spent on finding a job and an apartment. Maybe the most important part of rebuilding her life is remaining sober.
Keeping busy helps her recovery. She is apartment hunting.
She recently toured a one-bedroom apartment that was clean and featured some new kitchen appliances.
Lewis liked it. She had received a subsidized housing voucher through the Shelter Care-Plus Program at Talbert House. It's for recovering addicts and alcoholics and includes regular drug testing and counseling.
"You have to work for it," Lewis said. "I like that."
The apartment's landlord was wary. He said he was not familiar with the Talbert House program and wanted to know more.
He would call. Rent is $500 a month.
Lewis opened a black folder and pulled out a certificate that showed she completed a tenant education program at Santa Maria Community Services.
"I want to show him I know how to be a good tenant," Lewis said. She also scheduled several more apartment visits.
Every day is scheduled. It's a 12-step meeting, a job interview, apartment hunting, Women's Work at the YWCA, a stop at Talbert House.
Sometimes, a YMCA caseworker will visit her temporary apartment.
Denise Nichols took out Lewis' file.
"Do you have a birth certificate?"
"Yes, but it's raggedy and all folded."
"As long as it has a raised seal you are fine."
Sitting at the kitchen table, the women discuss work possibilities.
"A guy I know from my 12-step program works at a restaurant," Lewis told Nichols. "He told me to come by."
Ronald Jackson works at the East Side restaurant as night manager. He has known Lewis for 14 years.
He referred her to the café. Lewis met with the executive chef and owner, Mary Swortwood. Lewis wore khaki Capri pants, a bright top and jacket.
The women sat in a booth at 10:30 a.m., half an hour before opening. Lewis told her about her background - professionally and personally.
"You have good experience," Swortwood said. Lewis had completed the Cincinnati Cooks program through the FreestoreFoodbank and worked at a few restaurants.
She gave Lewis a kitchen tour and introduced her to staff. Jackson hugged Lewis.
They talked for more than 40 minutes. A customer came in. Swortwood gave Lewis a menu and fact sheet.
"She said she would call me and wanted to have me come in to work a few nights," Lewis said outside. "She said we would go from there."
[wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.