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Economy a major factor for domestic violence

Some experts say the weakened economic situation may help increase domestic violence in the U.S., making violence both more likely to occur and leaving it harder for the abused partner to leave.

In January, the National Domestic Violence Hotline released information from a study that suggested a connection between economic struggle and domestic violence.

All people polled were reported as being victims of abuse. 54 percent of people said their economic situation had changed within the past year, and 64 percent reported an increase in abuse within the past year.

National Domestic Violence Hotline CEO Sheryl Cates stated on their website that “hotline calls in the third quarter of 2008 were up significantly over 2007, with September up 21 percent.”

Domestic violence hotlines and shelters in East Bay communities are also dealing with the economic crisis.

A Safe Place provides domestic violence services in Oakland, inc- luding a shelter and legal support.

Mary Dorris, a crisis line operator for A Safe Place, recognizes economic hardship as always playing a major role.

“People fight all the time about money in a domestic relationship,” said Dorris.

Sociology professor Bruce Williams also linked domestic violence with economic hardships, recognizing the link between economic blows like unemployment and low self-esteem.

“Who you are is directly associated with what you do,” said Williams. “I was unemployed for six weeks in my life and I was treated as a criminal.”

According to Williams, in our culture economic status often affects self-esteem, and low self-esteem fuels violence.

Williams also said that when people feel low and face economic crisis they turn to scapegoats, in this case, women.

“We see not only an increase in domestic violence, but an increase in violence against women in general,” said Williams, citing violent attacks and rape.

He also related the problem to the notion that women are a problem by being in the workplace, saying that this type of attack was “an attack on women from the standpoint that women are a problem.”

Jennifer Co is the domestic violence outreach manager at Building Futures with Women and Children, an organization that provides support for women and children escaping domestic violence.

Co said she is not sure if the economy is a direct reason for increased domestic violence, and she hasn’t noticed a significant increase in the number of people who seek services with BFWC.

However, she recognized that the economy has made it more difficult for victims to leave their abusers.

“Part of the barrier we see is largely economic,” said Co, noting that victims feel more pressure to stay in abusive relationships longer.

“Even if the economy wasn’t so bad, it is still a barrier,” said Co.

Co also said that many of her clients have to start over and find new jobs as well as places to stay. Finding jobs and housing are becoming increasingly difficult in this economic climate.

Co said the majority of her clients cannot depend on their abusers for money for their children’s needs, leaving the stress of finding those resources up to the women.

Many women’s shelters have been hit with budget cuts in recent months, but neither Dorris nor Co could say exactly how much had been cut.

Dorris stated that more and more homeless women have been calling A Safe Place for help, while less attention and funding is provided.

“With the economic crisis and everybody hurting from lack of money, domestic violence is not getting the attention that it needs,” said Dorris.

Co says budget cuts are not surprising or unusual in the non-profit world. However, she said budget cuts have affected the quality of services shelters provide.

“When we have people calling the crisis line, more often than not we don’t have space,” said Co of her organization.

Co also said it is typical for shelters to not have enough beds available, partially because the shelters do not take reservations.

This is done because a woman might reserve a bed for the night and not show up if her abuser is there, and it is not safe to leave at that time.

“You’re also looking out for the other women and children,” said Co.