The economic downturn has not only exacerbated job insecurity and financial stress; the deepening recession has lead to a spike in domestic violence.
Organizations that serve victims of domestic violence have had an increased demand for services in the past year. Because jobs and affordable housing are scarce, many shelters report that women are seeking refuge for longer periods of time than usual. Unfortunately, the recession – including a drop in donations – has forced some organizations to cut budgets and lay off their own employees, leaving many women even more vulnerable.
A September 2004 study released by the National Institute of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice) “found a strong link between intimate violence and the economic well-being of couples and the communities in which they live.” Women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused. Couples under “extensive financial strain” had triple the domestic violence rate of others, and women in low-income neighborhoods are “substantially more likely” to be repeatedly injured by male partners.
Men are experiencing job loss at a greater rate than women, due to significant layoffs in male dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing. When a man’s identity is completely tied to his paid work, the loss of a job means a loss of a sense of self and a sense of control. I believe our society’s strict gender roles and expectations that men be their families’ primary breadwinners leads to this crisis of masculinity of sorts. While financial tensions are not likely to turn a non-violent person into an abuser, those prone to abuse often take their frustrations out on intimate partners. And general economic insecurity makes it harder for women to move away from abusive situations.
Women in relationships with abusive men are in a terrible bind. Families are struggling to remain in their homes, pay their bills, and keep vulnerable jobs. Leaving permanently means risking an even more devastating financial situation, even homelessness. And abusers use the economic downturn as a tool of control over their victims, according to Eliza Daniely-Woolfolk, executive director for Alternatives to Domestic Violence in Riverside, CA. Economic turmoil leads to more frequent abuse and more violent abuse in homes where domestic violence already exists.
Whilst most media reports focus on the male victims of the recession, who have lost their jobs and retirement funds, the hidden victims of a faltering economy go unseen. Domestic violence prevention centers and women’s and children’s shelters are desperate for resources; if you are able, please consider giving time and/or money to your local organization. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Domestic Violence Hotline or Safe Horizon.