Even in good times, life for poor working women can be an obstacle-filled struggle to get by. In bad times, it can be hell. Now, throw domestic violence into the mix and the hardships grow exponentially — as I discovered recently when I talked with “Tyrie” while she was at her job at a child-care center in one of New York City’s outer boroughs.
“This economy is hitting everybody really hard,” the 40-something woman, originally from Trinidad, tells me. But it’s hitting her harder than many. Tyrie is a domestic violence survivor whose personal suffering has been compounded by the global economic crisis. And she isn’t alone.
“Clients are coming in more severely battered with more serious injuries,” reports Catherine Shugrue dos Santos of Sanctuary for Families, New York State’s largest nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to dealing with domestic violence victims and their children. “This leads us to believe that the intensity of the violence may be escalating. It also means that people may be waiting until the violence has escalated before they leave.”
“Difficult financial times do not cause domestic violence,” says Brian Namey from the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “But they can exacerbate it.”
“When there are tough financial times,” Namey notes, “couples can be under greater pressure, have higher stress levels.” In fact, a 2004 study by the National Institute of Justice reported that women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over five years were three times more likely to be abused.
**The Domestic Violence No One Notices**
When “domestic violence” is mentioned, people usually think of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, but experts say that another form of domestic violence has been on the increase since the global financial meltdown hit. They call it “economic abuse.” It not only goes largely unnoticed by most Americans, according to Shugrue dos Santos, but is “not sufficiently explored in the press.” Namey concurs, adding, “Financial abuse is something that may not be on the radar for most people, but it is a serious problem.”
Sanctuary for Families points to “Jen,” a battered client who came to them in the fall of 2008 just as the financial crisis was beginning to sweep the country. According to its staff, she represents an ever more typical case.
Speaking of her partner, she put her dilemma this way:
“Sometimes I think it would be easier just to go back to him. I know that he could possibly kill me but… when we lived with him he always had the refrigerator full and I never had to worry about what my baby was going to eat or what we were going to wear. It’s just really hard to watch my baby live like this. Sometimes I don’t think it’s worth it.”
Jen is one of an increasing number of women caught between violence in the home and the violence of being moneyless, powerless, and alone in the world. One way in which economic abuse occurs, as Shugrue dos Santos explains, is when “as part of the power and control dynamic, the batterer tries to exert control over the finances of the family. We talk to many women, and even if they’re the primary bread-winners in the family, they end up turning that money over to the batterer who either doesn’t give them money or gives them an allowance.”
There can be little question that the economic crisis is exerting new pressures on victims of domestic violence, exacerbating a whole constellation of interrelated issues that threaten to make their lives more precarious. Staff members at Sanctuary for Families are finding, for instance, that batterers are ever more likely to fail to pay child and spousal support once their wives or partners leave them. Job loss in a swooning economy and less-forgiving landlords are just two other obvious factors that lead many of their clients to consider returning to abusers for financial security…
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Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. His work has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. A paperback edition of his book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books), an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, has just been published. His website is Nick Turse.com.
Copyright 2009 Nick Turse