Some who battle violence fight poverty

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
Editor's Note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. This story is the seventh in a series on domestic violence.
For some who battle domestic violence, there are other, equally threatening, wars to wage as well.
"While physical and psychological violence against women occurs in all social groups (as defined by age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic circumstances), poor women experience violence by their partners at a higher rate, partly because they have fewer options," according to information from Violence Against Women (VAW).
"The combination of poverty and violence creates particular difficulties for women's well-being and ability to achieve self-sufficiency. Access to independent economic resources, including welfare, is central to abused women's decision-making and safety planning."
Because domestic violence rarely comes solely in the form of physical abuse but is often accompanied by other forms of control, many women who live in poverty who are also in an abusive relationship experience little financial independence.
According to information from VAW, women who live in poverty and who receive governmental assistance are twice as likely to become victims of violence from their partner.
"Nearly all of the studies that have investigated the issue have found that over half of the women receiving welfare said they had experienced physical abuse (defined as a continuum from slapping or hitting through more physically injurious acts) by an intimate male partner at some point during their adult lives. When they were asked, most of the women receiving welfare also reported physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood."
Those startling numbers compare to 22 percent of the general population who reported abuse in their adult lives.
According to Kathy England-Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, abuse comes in many forms, but there is one underlying element in all forms of domestic violence. "Domestic violence is all about power and control and perpetrators will do whatever they can to maintain that power and control," said England-Walsh. "There are just all kinds of hideous acts of violence that people don't know about because they are so horrible to talk about and it is all a part of that control."
A perpetrator of domestic violence may use economic abuse against a victim by preventing him or her from getting or keeping a job, and keeping the victim in a financially dependent situation.
According to information from the TCASDV, many victims of domestic violence cite financial matters as the reason they stay with or go back to partners who have abused them.
For those who already face economic hardship, having a partner who controls what small amount of money is coming in can lead to a cycle of violence fueled by poverty. "Women who experience both recurring violence and poverty are likely to have more complex needs than those who have more resources, and those who seek support from public assistance may have even more complex needs than other abused women living in poverty," according to information VAW officials.
"Studies have also found that abused women on welfare have higher rates of depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than do women who report no abuse, and that those recently abused have higher rates than those whose abuse occurred in the more distant past."
According to information from the 2000 U.S. Census, 16.9 percent of Carter County's more than 56,700 residents live in poverty, a rate which is higher than the state average of 13.5 percent. The average number of people living below the poverty level in the five-county Northeast Tennessee region (Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties) is 15.88 percent.