The number of clients for the Aspen-based victim assistance nonprofit Response rose nearly 150 percent in 2012, signaling increased need from people in abusive relationships.
But the same factors contributing to domestic strife in the upper Roaring Fork Valley — money troubles, joblessness and recession-related stresses — also are decreasing the nonprofit’s coffers, said executive director Lauren Mbereko.
The number of people seeking assistance from Response rose from 436 in 2011 to 649 in 2012.
“We’ve had more new clients,” Mbereko explained. “But overall the numbers are up because of ongoing clients. People who would not normally be ongoing have stayed on with us.”
Often, Mbereko said, those ongoing clients are people in relationships with escalating verbal abuse, controlling behavior from spouses, or patterns of domestic violence. As working people have slid into tougher financial straits over the last four years in the Aspen area, it’s become harder for victims to leave such unhealthy relationships, Mbereko said.
“It’s a pattern of behavior, it’s not just a couple that gets in a fight,” she said.
Many of Response’s clients are people uncomfortable with the way their partner is pushing boundaries and growing more abusive or manipulative. Response’s client load had been climbing steadily since 2009, Mbereko said, but last year’s spike was unprecedented in its 30-year history.
While demand for Response’s support services grows, the nonprofit has been forced to trim its budget as donations, grants and government funding have slowed. Its budget this year is about $300,000. That’s down from roughly $389,000 in 2012 and what had been more than $400,000 in years prior.
Some key grants and large private donations have dropped off in recent years. The city of Aspen, which has given Response $15,000 annually in recent years, is looking to eliminate such social service grants.
Last week, the nonprofit hosted a fundraiser at Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant and Bar, as part of the One Billion Rising movement. One Billion Rising takes its name from the estimated number of women worldwide who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse — about one in every three. The event raised about $2,000 for Response.
Like a lot of social services nonprofits, Response is trying to do more with less these days. As its client list grows, though, it is devoting less resources to preventative and educational programs on domestic abuse and sexual assault.
“It’s hard to think that we might not be able to do some school programs,” Mbereko said, “especially before kids go off to college.”
Response offers a confidential 24-hour crisis hotline, short-term emergency shelter, one-on-one counseling and support groups, as well as advocacy work for victims in criminal and civil court cases. It serves Pitkin County and the portion of Eagle County in the Roaring Fork Valley. About 12 percent of its client base is tourists and visitors; the rest is locals.
Mbereko is the nonprofit’s only full-time staff member. It counts on trained volunteers to handle the Response hotline, along with part-time and contract workers who provide counseling and advocacy services. The nonprofit is planning a volunteer training class for April.
Only a fraction of its clients have reported their situations to the police, or taken civil action against spouses.
The Aspen Police Department, in an annual report released this week, reported 103 cases of domestic violence in Aspen last year. That number is up slightly from 92 in 2011, but has varied widely in recent years, from 85 cases in 2008 to 48 in 2009. Restraining order violations reported in the city stayed flat at 36 for the last two years, but that’s tripled from 12 in 2006. There were six sex assaults reported in Aspen in 2012.
Learn more about Response’s work and volunteer opportunities at responsehelps.org.