Financial stress increases domestic violence.
How has the economy affected domestic violence?” This is a question we are asked time and again as we work in the community to raise awareness of domestic violence. Most people know that financial problems can test even the most stable relationship, but what happens when financial stress is added to an unhealthy relationship?
According to a recent study by The National Network to End Domestic Violence, in a relationship where domestic violence is already present, financial problems can exacerbate the abuse and contribute to an increase in the severity and frequency of the abuse.
Domestic violence is three times more likely to occur when couples are experiencing high levels of financial strain.
Translation — for the estimated 2 million domestic violence victims that suffer abuse each year in the United States, the abuse has not only happened more often since the economy became depressed, but the violence is more intense.
As the economy continues to falter, domestic violence providers across the nation report that calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased dramatically, demand for emergency shelter has risen exponentially and distress calls to 911 with reports of domestic violence have climbed significantly.
But it’s important to recognize that economic stress does not cause domestic violence. The need for an abuser to exert power and control over another person causes domestic violence. What a bad economy does is make a bad situation worse.
At the Houston Area Women’s Center, we also have seen a surge in demand for our services since the economy collapsed. At the same time, government funding for domestic violence agencies nationwide has been cut and donations from private donors have gone down. Just when more and more victims are being forced to flee their homes to escape increasingly violent situations, agencies are struggling to find the critical resources needed to help.
Of the 40,651 people who called our hotline, the 13,747 clients who attended our counseling sessions, and the 2,350 women and children who stayed in our shelter last year, Amanda’s case is indicative of the stories we’re hearing from our clients.
Amanda lived in California with her husband of seven years and their two young children. They enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, sustained by their family business. Although she was a college graduate, Amanda’s husband insisted she stay home to raise the children.
During their marriage, her husband exhibited periods of on-again, off-again abusive behavior toward her. He insulted her, pushed her, pulled her hair, and threw things at her – while pregnant. With young children to raise and no personal finances, Amanda felt trapped.
When the California economy crashed, their business failed, and Amanda’s family faced massive debts and foreclosure. Amanda once again became the target of her husband’s rage. The family relocated to Houston in search of a brighter financial future. Amanda hoped that the change in location would also prompt a change in her husband.
Amanda’s optimism was short-lived. Even with the change in location, the abuse intensified. Amanda’s new neighbor voiced her concern and shared the Women’s Center’s domestic abuse hotline number with her. She realized her personal safety and the safety of her children depended on it, so Amanda called our hotline and entered our shelter. They are now safe.
Sadly, Amanda’s story is not unique. There are many victims across the country and right here in Houston with similar stories of abuse.
Each year, domestic violence costs our nation’s economy millions of dollars in lost productivity. Domestic violence victims miss work more frequently, change jobs more often and suffer from more health-related problems. Domestic violence affects all of us. Interestingly, investing funds and efforts to end domestic violence could actually help the economy.
Domestic violence knows no boundaries – it affects all colors, all religions, all professions, all income levels, all genders and all ages. With three out of four Texans personally experiencing domestic violence or knowing someone who has experienced domestic violence, chances are that you have or will encounter this issue at some point in your lifetime.
If you suspect a loved one or acquaintance is suffering from abuse, don’t turn away – be a friend. You never know when or where you may encounter “Amanda,” but like her neighbor, you might be her lifeline to help. Be supportive and nonjudgmental. Share information about available resources – we know it helps because we answer their calls.
This October marks the 23rd year of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn about it. Talk about it and let’s all work together to end it. Just imagine, if we work together, one day we will be able to tell our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that domestic violence – like dial phones, record players and live customer service – is a thing of the past.