It is a common misconception that rates of domestic violence spike during the holiday season, according to Stacy Castle, chief operating officer of the Young Women's Christian Association of Silicon Valley.
Castle, who oversees the YWCA Silicon Valley's Domestic Violence Department, said that there is no specific time of year when spousal abuse is highest. Unfortunately, she said, it is a perennial problem, which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years.
Domestic violence is at an "all time high" in Santa Clara County, according to Castle -- a fact she attributes, at least in part, to the recession.
As the country enters yet another year of economic turmoil -- with levels of unemployment and financial insecurity especially high in California -- Castle said that many families in Mountain View and the surrounding areas are feeling squeezed more than ever before.
"As that stress continues to build, we continue to see a rise in domestic violence," Castle said.
In an effort to shield women from abusive partners, the YWCA Silicon Valley runs the Support Network for Battered Women. The program -- one of seven local nonprofits that receive help from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund drive -- provides a variety of services for women (and their children) who have been victims of domestic violence.
The Support Network runs a 24-bed shelter, and offers professional counseling and support groups for adults and children, case management, legal advocacy, a toll-free hotline, and crisis intervention services, Castle said. It can even arrange transportation and hotel accommodations on a moment's notice if the situation is dire enough to call for such action, she added.
"Our shelter is needed to help keep people safe from domestic violence," both in the short term and the long term, she said.
The professional counseling and support groups can be a critical source of information for domestic violence victims. Many women who are in abusive relationships grew up in households where such behavior was normal, Castle said. The Network staff work hard to break the cycle of domestic violence.
"'That's how my mom and dad interact, that's how everyone on my block interacts,'" Castle said, explaining the thought process that can make the cycle of domestic violence seem normal to both men and women. "Dispelling those notions is crucial."
In an effort to nip domestic violence in the bud, the Network offers counseling to the children of abused women as well as to teenage girls who may be in an abusive relationship.
For young teens in a relationship, Castle said, it may seem "really glamorous to have your boyfriend scream at you and then drive off." Such scenes are regularly played out in reality shows, TV dramas and music videos, Castle noted. Teens are absorbing these images, and may be seeing the same sort of behavior at home, and it all works toward shaping the teenager's view that this is how a normal relationship works.
"In any normal, healthy relationship there are disagreements," Castle said. "But if you ever feel scared, if you ever worry about what your partner is going to do, that's when it is time to consider seeking help."
Although the Network accepts only women into its shelter and support groups, Castle said she recognizes that men can be the victims of abuse as well. She said that men occasionally call seeking assistance, and when they do, the Network staff is always happy to refer them to a shelter for men.
Castle also noted that "a young man never grows up wanting to beat a woman." Men who hit their spouses often grew up in violent households, she said.
If the ailing economy is contributing to an increase in domestic violence, it is also decreasing the YWCA Silicon Valley's ability to combat the trend.
"Every time that there is a cut it impacts us," Castle said -- and the Network has been taking many cuts lately, as both the state and the federal government are trimming spending on social programs. Castle estimates that 75 percent of her organization's funding comes from a state or federal source.
The Network had to lay off some staff recently, and may have had to cut more employees if it weren't for the support of the YWCA Silicon Valley, which kicks in about 25 percent of the organization's operating budget. A strong volunteer base of more than 300 is also vital to the organization's day-to-day operations, Castle said.
For more information, visit the Network's website. You can call the Network's crisis hotline at 1-800-572-2782.