Domestic abuse victims are commonly asked why they return to their abusers. Answers typically focus on the psychological aspects of abuse, but victims also can be prevented from leaving due to financial and economic dependence on their abusers.
Abuse survivors may be reliant on their abusers not only for access to money, but also transportation and housing. Concern for children and pets also can be factors. Resources such as the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center, however, can help victims transition away from dependence.
Finding a place for survivors to stay is usually the first priority and the most difficult. Resources such as the Ruth House can provide an immediate solution for women with children, but long-term, affordable transitional housing is more difficult to arrange.
“It’s really difficult, especially if it’s somebody who is dependent on (the abuser) for housing, because in our market here in Idaho Falls anything that is affordable for someone who is financially dependent on someone else, that market is scarce to nothing,” said Teena McBride, director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center.
In cases where the victim has a job and education, finding a home is much simpler. Residences with room for children also raise the financial cost.
The abuser may also own any cars used by the victim. McBride said the closure of Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority added to the problem, removing a primary source for public transportation in Idaho Falls. The lack of transportation can make it harder to maintain employment, compounding the difficulty.
McBride said she sometimes works with Club Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides housing to the homeless and other at-risk individuals. The organization can help cover rent costs. To qualify, however, applicants need to meet federal requirements and show they can maintain the property on their own.
“We do not have the means of housing to just take a whole family and put them into a house,” said Club Inc. Case Manager Supervisor Blair Bradley.
To compensate for the housing costs, Bradley works with like-minded organizations in communities around Idaho Falls to find housing that is more affordable in Rigby, Blackfoot and Pocatello. McBride said the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center also has emergency funds prepared in cases where a survivor of abuse is in imminent danger.
If the victim is married to or shares ownership of the house with the abuser and the abuser is charged with a crime, the courts can issue a no-contact order against the defendant. If the defendant is released from jail, the order would put the responsibility on them to find a home instead of their partner or spouse.
The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center occasionally sees cases where the abuser threatens to take the home from the victim or evict them. The center offers legal assistance in such situations, and McBride said the abuser often does not have the right to kick the victim from the house.
“Their contribution is usually higher to maintaining that household than the person who is battering,” McBride said.
The problem is not just with housing, however. McBride has seen cases where abusers shut off utilities to lash out against victims who accused them.
McBride said she suggested about a decade ago that the courts add to the no-contact orders that the defendant continue to financially support a victim if the victim was previously dependent on the accused.
Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark said there was no law explicitly preventing the court from adding financial support as a condition of a no-contact order, but the law also does not explicitly allow it either. The forms used by prosecutors to request no-contact orders don’t have an option for the kind of stipulation McBride suggested.
Clark said it’s common for victims to feel pressured into asking the prosecutor to drop the charges or claim they lied to law enforcement.
In the early 2000s the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office, then led by Dane Watkins Jr., decided to rely less on victims’ testimony in domestic abuse cases and more on the evidence. Victims can request charges be dropped, but the prosecutor regularly charges abusers against the wishes of the victims, citing the need to prevent violence.
Clark added that a defendant or family member who attempts to pressure a victim into withdrawing charges may be committing another crime. Withdrawing financial support with the intent to force the victim to recant could lead to charges of intimidating a witness, a felony punishable with up to five years in prison.
“People who batter fear independence,” said McBride. “They create isolation. Isolation creates dependency.”