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What If Leaving Your Abuser Means Living on the Street? How Budget-Cuts Make Life Even Harder for Abused Women

Budget cuts have strained domestic violence resources. What does that mean for women who need a safe place to go?

The first time Julianna Martinez's ex-husband hit her in the face, it came out of nowhere. They'd been out dancing, but he left the club early. Later that night she let him into her house and they were sitting there talking. 

"He didn't even seem angry. Then wham, across my face."  Afterward he cried, so she forgave him, thinking it was a one-time thing. 

The second time it happened, they were driving through a military base in Germany when he got pissed off because she hadn't been welcoming enough to a fellow soldier's wife. "He turned around and smacked me," she says. "His reason was, I wasn't sitting with her, making her feel comfortable."

She sat there stunned. When she recovered from her shock she jumped out of the car and ran to the office of the army police. Although they were initially separated, they went to marriage counseling.  

It didn't help. Before their son was born, they fought because her husband wanted her to leave the army to spend all of her time raising him. After their son was born, they fought because her husband didn't want her to go to Saudi Arabia with her unit. That fight ended when he stripped off all her clothes and tied her to a weight bench with some T-shirts, which is how she spent the night. The abuse continued through their move back to the US and his exit from the army. They settled in Arizona, where she tried her best to hide the beatings from her children and her friends.

"Of course, he did everything behind closed doors and sneaky," Martinez says. "He used to beat me up and I had black eyes, but once the kids came the beatings were more on my legs, on my torso, on my arms. He stopped hitting me in the face, no more bruises to show, they were all hidden."

That's how she spent 17 years, through what she calls good times and bad times. As long as he just went after her and left the kids alone, she thought that they were all better off staying. 

"My mother [had] disowned me, so where would I go? So I just stayed. It was survival for me, where else do I go?" she says. 

Her fears were not unwarranted. Many women who flee their abusers end up homeless. One  2003 study found that 25% of homeless mothers surveyed said they'd been "kicked, pushed, shoved or otherwise hurt" in the past year. 63% of homeless women have been victimized by their partners, while 92% have been physically or sexually  assaulted at some point in their lives. (Men are also the victims of intimate partner violence, but at far lower rates than women.) 

That's just one of the heartbreaking ways poverty and domestic violence are intertwined. If the abuser brings home the money in a low-income house, the choice to send him off to jail may seem impossible. Low-income and minority women, for understandable reasons, may be reluctant to tangle with the criminal justice system, and may be less likely to report abuse to police in the first place. Even the relatively well-off can find themselves in trouble: abusers do not tend to encourage their partners' career aspirations, leaving many battered women financially stuck when getting away can mean poverty. 

Everything gets worse in a bad economy. A lost job or foreclosed home, the stress of long-term unemployment ( 4.4 million Americans have been without work for 27 weeks or longer) can all trigger violent episodes or worsen abuse. Eight out of 10 shelters surveyed reported more calls for help in the past year and the year before that, going back to the start of the financial crisis  when the first survey was taken, according to the Mary Kay Foundation. 

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