When we think of home, most of us think of a place of warmth, love and safety, but as we begin Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we must recognize that for thousands of South Carolinians, this is not the case. Home is instead a place of fear, threats and violence.
Often, when it comes to situations of domestic violence, people’s first reaction is to ask why the victim didn’t leave. The assumption is made that if people are experiencing abuse, they should never stay. This ignores the reality that for many victims the “leaving” can be incredibly dangerous for them and their children. And, in many situations, there is nowhere they can afford to go.
Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. In fact, over 90% of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
Think for a moment of how difficult it would be to uproot your life tomorrow. You have to leave your home, taking very little with you. You have to find money to cover the first and last month’s rent, deposits for utilities, and furniture. You have to find safe methods of transportation. You have to change the schools your children attend. You might have to find a new job.
Now, imagine doing all this as you try to escape a relationship where your partner has assaulted you, has threatened your children, has control over all the financial resources and has destroyed your credit (or doesn’t allow you to work).
According to a 2021 count of domestic violence services during a 24-hour period in South Carolina, almost 70% of the 478 victims served found temporary refuge in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hotels, motels or other housing provided by local programs. Sadly, due to a lack of resources, 21 victims’ needs went unmet, and 81% of those unmet requests were for housing and emergency shelter. We know that, as high as these numbers are, they are an undercount.
Beyond affordability, many survivors have trouble accessing rental properties because of poor credit, rental and employment histories as a result of their abuse. Abusers commonly sabotage victims’ economic stability in order to make them more reliant on the abusive partner, and ultimately more vulnerable to homelessness.
Waiting lists for public housing are years long, and even in situations where victims gain assistance through Section 8 vouchers, racism, discrimination and landlords not wanting to work through all the regulations involved often keep survivors on the streets. This ultimately can drive them back to their abusers where at least they have a roof over their heads.
It’s clear that we have a systemic, unsustainable issue in South Carolina in terms of individuals and families being able to afford housing and utilities. And when it comes to survivors fleeing abusive relationships, we also have a shortage in emergency and temporary housing due to a lack of funding to fully house families fleeing violence. If programs continue to experience year-over-year funding cuts, this shortage will only get worse.
Every one of us knows someone who’s been impacted by domestic violence — it could be a coworker, a friend, a sibling, someone at church, a fellow soccer parent or even your child.
Our work is far from complete in better serving victims and solving the affordable housing crisis that plagues our state.
We have to do better, and we must do more. We must continue to identify and work together within these intersections, striving always to build a safer and healthier South Carolina for all.
Sara Barber is the executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.