Women’s crisis support center discusses domestic violence in Santa Cruz County
Laura Segura, executive director for Defensa de Mujeres Women’s Crisis Support center in Watsonville, once knew a woman who was verbally abused for 30 years before her husband hit her with a golf club in front of their children. The golf club broke, and the woman decided it was time to leave. She fled and called the number for Defensa de Mujeres. The center provided emergency shelter, helped her obtain a restraining order against her husband, and provided her with new housing options.
“It takes a lot of courage to leave an abusive situation and seek help,” says Segura. “Courageous women inspire all of us everyday. They are courageous in that they are able to endure abuse, but still seek safety for themselves and for their children.”
One in 10 people who responded to a 2011 telephone survey reported that they or someone they knew had experienced domestic violence in Santa Cruz County in the last year, according to the Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP).
Defensa de Mujeres is the only rape crisis center and domestic violence emergency shelter in Santa Cruz County, and its mission is to end domestic violence and sexual assault by providing intervention and prevention services.
“Violence affects everyone in the community; it doesn’t affect isolated individuals, it doesn’t affect just the victims,” says Segura. “It affects children when they witness domestic violence, it affects families.”
She adds that the problem comes with a hefty price tag for the larger community, in the form of healthcare and police response costs. “It is a billion dollar concern in our country,” she says. “Domestic violence has enormous costs to our nation and to our families. It really tears into the fabric of families.”
The CAP is an extensive annual report on the county’s quality of life, based on data collected by Watsonville-based independent social research nonprofit Applied Survey Research (ASR). This year’s 17th edition of the comprehensive report includes a variety of data on areas from health to demographics, education to public safety, and economy to natural environment.
The number of CAP survey respondents that answered they were “very concerned” about family violence in our community, including domestic violence, child abuse, and senior abuse, decreased from 62 percent in 2000 to 37.4 percent in 2011. While overall domestic violence concerns have continued to decrease in Santa Cruz County since 2002, the report notes that family violence is typically underreported, so these numbers are likely an underrepresentation.
Since 1981, law enforcement agencies in the county collaborate every October—Domestic Violence Awareness Month—to tally the reported incidents of domestic violence and raise awareness about the issue, as well as provide resources for victims. This October, the group tallied 32 more reported domestic violence incidents in the county than in the same period last year. Five hundred and forty six people reported domestic violence incidents in the county this October, while 514 did so last year.
Segura notes that the CAP phone survey is likely an under-representation of the domestic violence rates in Santa Cruz County.
“I don’t know why people are less concerned about domestic violence than in previous years,” she says. “I can only guess that because of other stresses and concerns—like the economy—family violence in general is not as high on people’s radar as it should be. I am really, really surprised that people are not as concerned as I would expect them to be. We know that domestic violence, child abuse, and senior abuse is very prevalent; it’s also very underreported.”
Mike Roe, chief inspector for the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s office, spoke out about the domestic violence rates in a Nov. 4 Santa Cruz Sentinel article, in which he said the number of incidents reported—546 in just 31 days of October—is depressing and even amazes law enforcement.
According to data provided by the Capitola Police Department, Santa Cruz Police Department, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, Scott’s Valley Police Department, and Watsonville Police Department, Capitola had the largest increase in domestic violence calls and domestic violence calls with weapons since 2002.
Thirteen percent of South County survey respondents reported having friends or family members who have experienced domestic violence in the last year. This was more than in other areas of the county, as 8 percent of North County respondents and 11 percent of San Lorenzo Valley respondents reported this was the case.
However, according to Tracie Hernandez, who works in records management for the Capitola Police Department, a technical error caused the number of reported incidents in Capitola to appear overly high, while in fact Capitola experienced a decrease in the amount of reported incidents of domestic abuse since 2002.
Hernandez also notes that due to its size, a percent-based increase in Capitola represents far fewer actual incidents than, for example, a percent-based increase in the much larger City of Santa Cruz.
“I do know that a high majority [of cases of domestic violence] are happening in homes we have no access to,” says Hernandez. “It’s not a transient population that’s experiencing domestic violence, they are residents who are living here on a full-time basis.”
Segura notes that the statistics recorded by police departments are not necessarily indicative of the actual number of domestic abuse cases, as not everything under domestic violence is reportable to the authorities.
“Emotional abuse is not something that people typically report to the police, and we see a lot of that,” says Segura. “And that’s considered domestic violence; it’s about power and control.”
Segura says the most common types of domestic abuse Defensa de Mujeres sees are instances of physical and emotional abuse, but says two other types of abuse also appear to be on the rise: she has noticed that instances of technological and financial methods of abuse are increasing.
Technological abuse means controlling and monitoring someone’s access to computers and Internet interactions. Financial abuse refers to blocked or controlled access to finances, such shared bank accounts, the ability to work for oneself, and the ability to access personal finances.
Segura notes that although the numbers may be going down in the county in regard to domestic violence, the abuse is more severe. She says she confirmed this trend with law enforcement in a domestic violence committee meeting this year.
This trend is also in keeping with national statistics, according to the second “Mary Kay Truth About Abuse” national survey. The survey, however, also finds that national rates of domestic abuse continue to be on the rise. More than 700 domestic violence shelters across the country participated in the survey, which concluded that domestic violence abuse is more severe due to the struggling economy and stress therein.
“Although the numbers may be going down, what we do know is that incidents are becoming more severe,” says Segura. “If what we’re seeing is that incidents of domestic abuse are going down countywide, one thing I want attribute that to is that we’ve done a lot of work around prevention and outreach. If we want to have a healthier community and stop the next generation of violence emerging, we have to prevent that from happening and invest in prevention work.”