Ventura County ranks No. 2 in domestic abuse cases per capita
By Ben Gill 07/19/2012
Rosemary is a lifetime resident of Ventura County and one of thousands of victims of domestic abuse reported to police every year. After moving in with her boyfriend at age 16, she suffered 17 years of physical and emotional abuse before losing her unborn child in one particularly brutal beating. Fearing for her own life, Rosemary managed to escape her abuser three years ago, finding shelter in the homes of friends and family.
Unfortunately, Rosemary’s case is far from isolated. Ventura County has the second highest per capita rate of reported domestic abuse in the state, a rate nearly double the state average.
According to data from the California Department of Justice and US Census in 2010, there were 8.87 domestic violence related calls to police per 1,000 Ventura County residents, compared to a state average of 4.46. And this is not a recent development; reports of domestic violence in the county have been well above average for at least the past 10 years.
In addition to the county’s high rate of overall domestic abuse, there has been a sharp uptick in the rate of child abuse. According to Ventura County Children and Family Services (VCFCS), the number of reported cases rose from 796 in 2008 to 1,177 in 2011, an increase of 48 percent.
“The economic stress (for families) over the last several years” has contributed to the high rate of domestic violence in Ventura County, said Eric Sternad, executive director of Interface Children and Family Services.
Sternad emphasized that the domestic violence in the county isn’t isolated in any certain “socioeconomic or cultural group,” and that it is spread throughout the entire community.
“We are seeing, in the field, much more complex cases where there are multiple allegations (of abuse),” said Judy Webber, the deputy director of Ventura County Child and Family Services. “Once we get into the home, we are seeing that there’s multiple issues … facing a family,” such as illness, substance abuse, and financial hardship.
Webber said she believes that the economic recession has contributed to an environment in which the risk of child abuse is greater due to heightened levels of stress on families which sometimes result in “unhealthy coping mechanisms” like substance abuse and physical violence.
Given that many of the causes of domestic violence cited — economic hardship, substance abuse, and illness — exist statewide, none of the experts were able to specifically describe what might be contributing to higher domestic violence rates in Ventura County.
“I think the analogy would be … we wouldn’t just sit back and say ‘Well we don’t understand why there’s cancer, so we shouldn’t do anything,’” Sternad said. “And that’s what we’re (Interface) doing, we’re treating the impact, the effects of domestic violence. We’re preventing domestic violence by getting to victims that are at risk or who already have been battered.”
Sternad also explained that his organization is educating teens in the classroom about how to avoid abusive relationships in the first place and about appropriate types of behavior for healthy relationships.
By utilizing proven methods for combating and preventing domestic violence, Sternad said he believes that organizations like Interface have the ability to create positive change and to eventually have an impact on the rate of the crime in Ventura County.
The network of battered women’s shelters throughout the county also plays a major role in giving victims of domestic abuse, like Rosemary, a safe place to live when they often have nowhere else to go. Recently, following an extended period in which she was homeless, Rosemary decided to move to a local shelter, still struggling to move beyond the trauma and build a new life.
With the help of the staff and resources available at the shelter, Rosemary hopes to be living on her own again with her kids sometime in the near future. While it may be too late for organizations to prevent abuse for victims like Rosemary, it’s hoped that by ramping up preventative programs that future cases of abuse can be avoided in the first place.