Millions of Americans are growing more worried by the day about their shrinking 401ks, their inflating ARMS and the stability of their bank accounts. It's a frightening landscape far too littered with foreclosure notices and for sale signs.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and many Americans are concerned not only about their financial well-being, but also about their physical well-being. Those two factors are intrinsically and critically linked because, while a bad economy does not, in and of itself, create a batterer, it can certainly provoke one. A September 2004 study by the National Institute of Justice, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that:

Women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused.

Couples under extensive financial strain had triple the domestic violence rate of others.

Women in low-income neighborhoods are substantially more likely to be repeatedly injured by male partners.

There is a strong link between intimate violence and the economic well-being of couples and the communities in which they live.

As a tsunami of bad debt and bailouts wreaks havoc on the financial lives of millions, the families who already have a history of domestic violence are at particular risk. For them, the impact of the country's financial woes are compounded. Not only does it increase the chances they may be further victimized by escalating violence, it also means they likely feel more trapped than ever, since financial resources — and specifically the lack of them — is one of the top reasons that keep victims in abusive relationships.

Alarmingly, the debacle that is the U.S. economy right now is being played out at the same time that there has been a spiked increase in the number of domestic violence homicides in Massachusetts. Combined, these factors can have the effect of keeping victims from leaving both for fear of retribution and for lack of resources.

Many in Massachusetts feel they cannot afford to leave abusive partners — and yet, they cannot afford to stay.

In 2007, the lives of 55 people were claimed by domestic violence in Massachusetts, nearly triple the number in 2005. Sadly, too many victims of domestic violence do not know that life-saving services may be a simple phone call away. The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center — and many of the other domestic violence organizations in Massachusetts — make their programs available for free.

But herein lies the rub. Even as the needs are greater and the risks more dire, the organizations serving domestic violence victims are finding it ever more difficult to maintain operating budgets and raise the funds they need to do the work needing to be done.

"This is not only a government problem, this is a community problem. Although it is probably not the best times, we need the philanthropic community to step up. They have a stake in this," says Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe, Inc., which has 60 member organizations providing services to 45,000 domestic violence and sexual assault victims in Massachusetts each year. "If you don't invest now, you pay for it on the back end in loss of life and children's futures."

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Suzanne Dubus is the executive director of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a nationally recognized local organization serving families from Amesbury, Merrimac, Georgetown, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury, West Newbury and Groveland, working to end domestic violence and create communities that are safe for all its members.

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