The Payson Town Council can declare October “Domestic Violence Month,” but the Payson police know the grim truth: Every month is domestic violence month for dispatchers.
On one recent day, Payson police were working three domestic violence calls within minutes of each other — including one in which an infant was “tossed” onto the hood of a car in the middle of a physical battle between his mother and father.
In another recent incident, a domestic violence call led Payson police to a man who was beating up his girlfriend. In the house, they discovered quantities of meth. The arrest in that case underscored why those domestic violence calls remain the most dangerous of all emergencies for police.
That doesn’t surprise Gerry Bailey, director of the Time Out Shelter, which provides refuge to hundreds of Rim Country women and children each year, all fleeing violent homes.
In fact, a steady increase in calls since April has now nearly filled the 28-bed shelter. In the face of that increase, the shelter hopes to raise more money from donations and its thrift shop this year to offset worrisome declines in state support, due to Arizona’s festering budget crisis.
In addition, the shelter will sponsor a candlelight march for the victims of domestic violence from the Payson Town Hall to the Payson United Methodist Church at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday. At the church, marchers will hear the story of Marcia Harrison, who suffered abuse as a child and as a moned the courage to leave. She ultimately put her life back together and become a bank executive, willing to share her story.
The recent upswing in domestic violence calls and pleas for shelter reverses the trend of the previous two years, when the recession may have had a impact on calls to the shelter.
Overall, domestic violence calls to the Payson Police Department declined about 9 percent in fiscal 2010. However, that small decrease didn’t compensate for an 83-percent rise in reports the year before. It also doesn’t capture more recent trends, with serious cases coming in every week.
Bailey said that an economic downturn increases stress on families, which can also increase the incidence of domestic violence.
That same downturn can actually cut calls to domestic violence shelters, she said. That’s because job loss and tight job markets often lock women into place. Lacking spare money or job prospects, they can’t afford to flee –— especially if they have children.
“About two years ago, we saw demand for shelter beds declining,” said Bailey.
“But starting in April, it began creeping back up. Now we’re close to full. But when I say we’re ‘full,’ I always think of that person who may be ready to make a call saying, ‘Oh, I can’t call them. They’re full.’ But we will always make sure we have a place for someone.”
Payson reflects a state and national trend in which domestic violence accounts for a third of emergency room visits by women and results in more than 100 murders annually in Arizona.
About one-third of American women report being assaulted or raped by a current or former boyfriend or spouse at some time in their lives, according to a national survey by the Commonwealth Fund. That results in 4.5 million physical assaults in this country annually, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One in five teens in high school nationally report being physically or sexually assaulted by a dating partner, according to a national survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In addition to that human toll, the medical bill for treating victims of domestic violence nationally runs to more than $2 billion annually, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Practice. Domestic violence accounts for about 37 percent of emergency room visits by women, according to the United States Department of Justice statistics.
Bailey said most of the women who seek shelter with Time Out have children, and that in at least half of the cases, the physical abuse heaped on the woman extends to the children as well. However, even the children not beaten suffer emotional trauma as a result of living in a violent home, she added.
The Time Out Shelter last year provided 10,000 nights of housing to 148 women and children, plus 19 women and children sheltered in transitional housing.
The shelter provided 1,400 hours of case management as well as a variety of community support services offered to women in dangerous relationships even if they aren’t living in the shelter. Services include legal advocates to help women obtain orders of protection, support groups and case mangers who can help abuse victims get help from other social services agencies.
The shelter also runs programs to provide court-ordered counseling to people convicted of domestic violence.
The shelter relies heavily on 116 volunteers, who donated 18,000 hours of their time each year. The Time Out Shelter used to administer a program to provide police with an expert trained in how to interview children in domestic violence cases.
A loss of key grants forced the shelter to close down that service. Fortunately, a Valley-based chapter of Child Help provides similar services now with a mobile van.
The Time Out Shelter lost grants totaling about $25,000 as a result of the state budget crisis, but absorbed the cuts into its overall $750,000 annual budget. The shelter relies heavily on both private donations and on sales through its thrift shop in Payson.