Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 9

Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A recession does not create abusive behavior, but counselors in Massachusetts who specialize in serving immigrant women say it aggravates the problem at all levels. Meanwhile, budget cuts are shrinking available services. The second of two stories.



Carmelle Bonhometre (right), DV program director, with Paulette (left) a DV survivor.BOSTON (WOMENSENEWS)--Isa Woldeguiorguis says the current recession isn't causing anyone to become abusive, because it is a learned behavior.

"Someone who uses violence will use it in an economic windfall, too," said Woldeguiorguis, policy and systems advocacy director at Jane Doe Inc., a Boston-based group that works to reduce domestic violence. "If they win the lottery, win a million dollars, they would still be abusive to their family."

But the recession has made abusive people more violent, more desperate, she said.  "For immigrant and refugee women, the recession paints a dangerous picture."

The economic downturn acts as a stressor, while at the same time resources are drying up for organizations that work specifically with immigrant communities, Woldeguiorguis said. This has led to an escalation in the severity and frequency of domestic violence among immigrant women.

Nationally, 75 percent of domestic violence shelters reported an increase in women seeking help since September 2008, according to an April report by the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation, based in Dallas.

The recession also leads to "opportunity violence," said Meghan Rhoad, a researcher in the Women's Rights Division of New York-based Human Rights Watch. "If the batterer has become unemployed they have more opportunities to be violent. There is more exposure."

Safety Net Eroding

In what appears to be part of a national trend, municipalities across Massachusetts are cutting budgets, corporate sponsorships are drying up and individual charitable donations are declining

A merciless regional economy--in September, for example, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 9.3 percent, the highest rate since 1976--has led to an erosion of the safety net for domestic violence survivors, according to advocates and treatment specialists in New England.

For those who specialize in helping immigrant women, many of them undocumented, the stresses are particularly acute.

"It's been really really difficult and just speaking with other organizations, I know we are not the only one," said Qingjian Shi, director of education and outreach at the Boston-based Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

"When these domestic violence service programs, such as shelters, get squeezed it is poor women who are the most affected, including a disproportionate number of immigrant women and women of color," said Rhoad at Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, demand for services has risen, Rhoad said. More women are coming to shelters with deeper needs and staying for extended periods, so fewer beds are available.

Rhoad said that an "outrageous example" of this scenario is in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wiped out all state funding for domestic violence shelters with one pen stroke.

In July, the governor eliminated state funding for its domestic violence programs. This meant that the 94 nonprofits that run California's domestic violence shelters lost almost 40 percent of their funding. The cuts in state financing, nearly $16 million, have forced several domestic violence shelters to close their doors, layoff staff and reduce services.

Funding Cuts Despite Demand

Meanwhile, the number of immigrant women seeking help at the Western Massachusetts Legal Services has doubled since 2006.

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DYNAMIC DIASPORA: WOMEN AND IMMIGRATION SERIES

Series Overview

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

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Part: 10

Visas Out of Hell: Women Need to Know They Exist

Part: 9

Deportation of Mothers in Iowa Tests Local Charity

Part: 8

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Part: 7

For Street Vendor, Another Holiday in Shadows

Part: 6

Arrested Iowa Meat Packers Live in Legal Limbo

Part: 5

Battered Immigrants in Arizona Find Few Havens

Part: 4

Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women

Part: 3

Immigrant Survivors of Abuse Seek Freedom

Part: 2

U Visas Speed Up for Immigrants Who Flee Abuse

Part: 1

U Visa Recipients Look for Better Enforcement