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Domestic Abuse 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.

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

"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.

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"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."

By the numbers

According to Winnetka police records, the number of domestic disturbance calls jumped from 39 to 67 between 2006 and 2010, and then dropped to 36 in 2011. "I do know the public is becoming more educated about domestic violence," said Winnetka Deputy Chief Joe Pellus. "Certainly an outside factor [on domestic violence] could be the economy and how it affects families but I wouldn't want to speculate on that."

In Glencoe, there were 50 incidents of domestic trouble in 2007 and 57 in 2011. Northfield police reported that there were 51 total domestic violence calls for service and 60 in 2011. For both towns, there was not a pattern in the number of incidents on a year-to-year basis.

"I'm sure there are people out there going through hard times and experiencing domestic violence," said Glencoe Deputy Chief Al Kebby. "That doesn't just mean physical abuse, it can also be verbal." Kebby agreed with Pellus that it is unclear if the numbers reflect an increase in domestic abuse.

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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