THERE WAS HARDLY a dry eye—or jacket—in Holladay Park last Thursday night, October 28. As rain poured down, advocates and survivors of domestic violence mourned the 49 women and children who died at the hands of their abusers in Oregon this past year, lighting a ring of a small candles to mark each fatality.
Advocates who work with abuse issues say the problem is getting worse in the state and that communities aren't doing enough to stem the rising tide of violence.
Portland Women's Crisis Line Executive Director Rebecca Nickels spoke through tears at the vigil, pointing out that while domestic violence is an age-old problem, modern solutions for it are both practical and very much achievable: funding shelters, for one, and creating more affordable housing.
"What are we as a community doing wrong?" asked Nickels, frustrated that she was speaking at essentially the same vigil as the one she helped organize 11 months ago. "We're not supporting survivors in the most basic ways."
More than 6,000 local families are seeking affordable housing, according to the Housing Authority of Portland, and the lack of cheap units is especially dangerous for people fleeing violent homes.
"I often come across waiting lists a year long. One reason people go back to their abusers is there is no affordable housing," said Tracy Alioth, a domestic violence survivor who now volunteers at Raphael House, a shelter for women hoping to escape abuse.
Survivors are lucky if they can find shelter space in Portland—there are only 100 local shelter beds, and those are often full. The Portland Women's Crisis Line reports that it calls eight local shelters five times a day but still has to tell 60 percent of women in crisis that there are no openings. Instead, counselors sometimes tell people escaping violence to wait in a public place—like the airport, a coffee shop, or the MAX train—and to call back to see if space has opened up ["Tough on Crime Victims," News, Oct 28].
Prosecution of domestic violence is patchy at best. An estimated 28,000 women in Multnomah County will be abused this year, but the cases against their abusers are frequently dismissed in court ["Victimless Criminal Court," News, June 17]. Prosecuting abuse cases locally requires a heavy commitment from the victims to testify against their abusers—often by the time their case appears in court, victims are too scared to press charges or are back in their abusers' arms.