Editor’s Note: This blog was written and submitted by Vision 2020 Tennessee Delegate and Executive Director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women Phyllis Qualls-Brooks.
At a time when Tennessee ranks third in the nation in the number of women killed by their intimate partners (Violence Policy Center in Washington, DC, 2012), the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, (TECW) is working to identify the cost of Violence Against Women in its state, with specific focus on domestic violence and human sex trafficking, which target women and girls four-to-one. The Economic Council is currently conducting the first phase of its research: a statewide hearing series seeking testimony from various agencies and organizations statewide to learn more about the direct cost of protecting and providing services to survivors and their families. During the month of June, hearings were held in Memphis and Trenton, both located in West Tennessee, which were the sixth and seventh of nine total hearings to be held statewide.
During the Memphis hearing, Tennessee Public Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons testified that more than half of all violent crimes in the state are linked to domestic violence; and in Shelby County, where Memphis is located, 18 percent of occurrences in 2012 were committed by repeat offenders. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich identified well more than $10 million in expenses incurred by Memphis and Shelby County law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office to respond to and prosecute related cases and to jail offenders. On a larger scale, Congressman Steve Cohen shared information about the cost-effectiveness of the federal Violence Against Women Act. He cited a study showing that the legislation saved U.S. tax payers more than $12 billion in its first six years, alone, by improving prevention, prosecution, treatment, and other services.
In the West Tennessee town of Trenton, in Gipson County, Department of Children’s Services agent, Donna Lorhorn shared that, while domestic violence is rarely the initial cause for a case to be opened at DCS, 21 of the 45 cases that she personally oversaw in 2012 involved known or suspected violence in the home and 16 of those cases combined to necessitate the out-of-home care of 43 children in Northwest Tennessee. Lorhorn explained that this results in daily payments to approved foster homes of up to $27 per day, or to contract-based caretakers ranging from approximately $100 to $500 each day for children who require a higher level of care. Other possible expenses include clothing allotments and school fees of several hundred dollars as well as travel costs, utility and rental assistance. Certain expenses, like a standard $900 psychological evaluation, vision check or physical, aren’t charged to DCS at all, but are performed by local health departments, which are publically funded.
Children under DCS care also receive TennCare Select benefits, which are paid for by state and federal government, and are frequently treated for physical and mental issues such as anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or problems related to alcohol and drugs. In her review, Lorhorn found that all of the children in her area who are currently receiving mental health treatment, are engaged in supervised visitations or are participating in parenting assessments came from a home where violence was confirmed or suspected.
Hearings are being held in each of Tennessee’s nine development districts. They will conclude with hearings in Jackson, July 15 and Johnson City on July 31. In addition to the hearings, a survey is being conducted as well as sessions with focus groups to help determine the costs of these crimes to society. Yvonne Wood, Chair of the Council said, “The 2013 hearings are revealing the trend is continuing and it erodes more than just the social fabric of our families, but the economic strength of our state.”