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Domestic Violence Cases in Upscale Communities Increase in Bad Economy

Financial instability adds additional stress at home, says one domestic violence services organization.

Judy didn't think she was in an abusive relationship. Her husband didn't hit her and, to most outward appearances, the couple looked happy. Judy did everything she thought she should do: Make her husband meals; write him sweet notes. She closed her bank account and joined her assets with his. But inside the home, Judy faced verbal abuse.

"The abuse was quiet because I wasn't fighting against it, I just knew I didn't have any rights ... my self-esteem was very low and I felt very trapped," said Judy, who agreed to talk with Patch on the condition of anonymity.

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Judy, a North Shore consultant and mother who recently divorced her husband after enrolling in individual and group therapy, said that she did not realize she was in an abusive relationship until she read "The Verbally Abusive Relationship," by Patricia Evans, and realized that her situation fit the symptoms, which include social isolation, attacks on self-confidence and threats of divorce. "I was afraid to say anything," she said.

Some have called it, "upscale abuse."

Increase in Cases

According to , the number of domestic disturbance calls increased from 170 to 184 between 2006 and 2010, and dropped to 139 in 2011.

"Women come to us driving Mercedes but have no money for gas," said Janice Wahnon, director of Shalva, a Chicagoland domestic violence organization that caters mostly to Jewish women.

At a time of economic instability, the number of domestic violence cases has risen nearly 30 percent for Shalva. Some counselors have dubbed "financial" abuse as a more prevalent issue, especially along the North Shore.

"People on the North Shore have the appearance of having everything, but conceal abuse at home," said Wahnon. "In the last few years with the [bad] economy, the financial piece is more and more adding a layer to violence."

Financial strain does not cause domestic abuse, but it can become a tipping point, according to Barbara Siegel, clinical director at Shalva. Siegel said that when husbands lose control at work, they sometimes seek control in their homes.

"On paper it looks as though a couple may have a beautiful house and a nice car, but the wife doesn't own anything," said Siegel. "The woman ends up in functional poverty because she is not eligible for free counseling or legal programs, but needs money for gas, trips to Target or prescriptions."

Challenging Stereotypes

While Siegel and Wahnon deal primarily with Jewish clients, Shalva receives clients from non-Jewish backgrounds and directs them to appropriate places for help. Both stress that victims of domestic abuse don't always fit the stereotypes and that domestic violence has increased in the North Shore.

"It’s literally people that we know coming in for help, including people living in nice neighborhoods," said Wahnon. "It’s potentially every woman that you know. There is a misunderstanding of domestic violence, because of the news, that abuse only happens to lower-class people who live in bad neighborhoods."

Judy agreed, relating her own experiences in group therapy with women, all of whom were college-educated and professionals.

"It was a huge step forward for me to be in a room with women who I could tell were intelligent, accomplished and normal, but all married to men similar to my estranged husband," she said. "We would joke that we were all married to the same man, because our stories were similar."

According to the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four relationships include violence, and at least 95 percent of those entail a man beating a woman.

"Everyone who comes in says, 'How can this happen to me?' and you realize that there's no correlation between education and being able to leave violent homes," said Siegel.

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