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5000 US women unable to access domestic violence services every day

5000 victims of domestic abuse are unable to access the help they need from federally funded services every day according to new research(1) from the London School of Economics and Political Science published in the journal Health Affairs today.

Dr Radha Iyengar of the LSE Economics Department, and her colleague Lindsay Sabik of Harvard University, developed the first survey(2) of assistance provided to individuals in need by over 2000 programs across the United States on an average day. It is also the first peer-reviewed survey to be conducted after the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2006.

The survey was conducted over one 24 hour period(3) during which nearly 50,000 people used these domestic violence services: 14,518 received emergency shelter; 7989 received transitional housing designed to move women from emergency into permanent housing; and 25,843 received non residential services – such as one-to-one counselling, safety planning and legal services – only.

However, over 5000 requests for help could not be met due to a lack of resources: 1752 of these were for emergency shelter; 1432 for transitional housing, 1999 for non residential services.

A higher proportion of unmet requests came from rural, economically disadvantaged and minority communities. As a result the report highlights the need for increased funding for domestic violence programs, especially in these areas.

Dr Iyengar said: 'These community-based organisations do essential work. They are often the last resort before the emergency room for victims of domestic violence. We know that when women do not have outside options are more likely to be killed.

'Clearly more funding of domestic violence programs is needed to meet as many requests for support as possible – particularly for transitional housing – in the places that need them most. These programs often do their best to find the "next best option" if they cannot meet the request but they are constrained by a lack of resources.'

A critical need for victims of domestic abuse is temporary, safe living quarters. Almost 65 per cent of programs that participated in the survey provided some form of emergency shelter. The authors of the report estimated that over the course of a year there will be over 5 million person-nights spent in shelter beds.

The researchers identified a particular need for more transitional housing. A fifth of programs surveyed offered emergency but no transitional housing. This is a crucial deficiency because shelters with transitional housing report much lower rates of victims returning to abusive partners.

Dr Iyengar said: 'While our survey is useful in identifying the services offered by crisis programs it can only provide limited information about the overall level of domestic abuse. Little is known about victims who use crisis services, but even less is known about victims who do not seek help. Unfortunately the true incidence of abuse likely to be much higher that the calls we recorded.'

Federally-funded, community-based domestic violence programs provide a range of services including shelters, counseling services, and financial and low cost legal support. They also provide an important referral destination for medical professionals who lack the time or resources to address the multi-faceted issues that victims of domestic violence face and for victims who do not want to disclose abuse to the police or medical professionals.

In the US the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224

In the UK the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge) is 0808 2000 247


Notes to editors

(1) An electronic copy  of the paper The Dangerous Shortage of Domestic Violence Services is available from the LSE press office or Sue Ducat, Director of Communications at Health Affairs tel: (301) 841-9962 e: sducat@projecthope.org

(2)The survey was the first National Census on Domestic Violence Services (2006).

(3)The survey method required local domestic violence programs to conduct an unduplicated count of the number of people using their program in a single 24 hour period on September 13 2006 without providing any identifying information about any individual. It is assumed that few people use the services of more than one domestic violence service in a single 24 hour period.

For media enquiries contact:

Sue Windebank, LSE press office, Tel: 020 7849 4624, E-mail: s.windebank@lse.ac.uk

22 September 2009