As families across the nation struggle under the shadow of domestic violence, community leaders and residents of Pinal County are banding together to stamp out the problem and to provide respite for victims of the often-unreported crime.
Apache Junction and other Valley cities are observing Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October in hopes that raising the crime’s profile will curtail abuse. And a local nonprofit is working on a $1 million project to build five new homes that will be used as safe houses for victims.
The Community Alliance Against Family Abuse, a nonprofit agency based in Apache Junction, shelters battered women and children at a hidden safe house and provides money for emergency stays at motels. The alliance also offers counseling and support groups.
Right now, the alliance has 16 beds, but it’s expanding to meet a growing need in the region.
“The growth out here — we can’t keep up,” said Christy Moore, the executive director of the agency. “We’re the only agency out here.”
City Councilman Joseph Severs said people need to realize the extent of the problem.
“One of the biggest things is public awareness,” he said.
Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vásquez said domestic violence in the northern part of the county is widespread and growing.
Reports of domestic violence have increased an estimated 10 percent over the last three years, he said.
“That is a major concern and one of the major calls we go out on,” he said. “That’s mainly due to the increase in population.”
Since 2000, Pinal County’s population has grown nearly 20 percent to more than 210,000 residents, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. About half are women and another 26 percent are children.
Moore said it’s been difficult for the agency to keep up with the rise in domestic violence that’s accompanied the population explosion.
Last year, the agency’s eight staff members arranged more than 2,500 overnight stays at the safe house and another 145 emergency stays at motels.
There also were nearly 1,000 phone calls to the agency’s counseling hot line.
Although the agency faces a challenge in keeping up with the increased demand for service, it has taken big steps in the right direction, Moore said.
Staff members conduct educational programs at high schools, teaching teenagers about the destructive effects of domestic violence in hopes that it will prevent them from becoming future perpetrators.
Tests given before and after presentations showed the students’ overall understanding of the problem had increased by 22 percent, Moore said.