Experts: Recession increases pressure on domestic abuse

Newsday, August 11, 2010

Financial troubles can exacerbate abusive tendencies, domestic violence experts said Wednesday.

Money woes often make abusers feel they have lost control and they often turn to drugs, alcohol or physical and emotional abuse to cope, they said.

The current economic difficulties have taken a toll, said Sandy Oliva, director of the Nassau County Coalition on Domestic Violence. “The issues facing families these days has increased the potential for more violence,” she said.

Oliva and Pamela Johnston, executive director of Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, which looks for ways to prevent abuse and assists victims, said they recently have been serving families in more desperate situations. Often, victims seeking help tell tales of job loss, hunger and chronic unemployment, they said.

“I think the economy is really and truly a factor,” said Johnston. Abusers who are unemployed may be home more often and as a result have more time with their victims, she said.

Johnston said victims, who are themselves unemployed or financially unstable, may not have the choice to leave violent situations. “They have nowhere to go . . . and are just not as able to get out of a dangerous situation.”

Lisa Smith, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, has worked with domestic violence victims and launched several programs to combat the issue. “People lose their jobs, they lose their self esteem,” she said. “Obviously you’re not going to see a happy, healthy atmosphere.”

Smith said at times abusers can lose hope, which can make them even more violent.

However, officials differ on whether a better economy will mean a domestic violence decrease.

“You don’t want to have people believe that if the economy gets better that people will be safer, because that’s not true,” Oliva said. She said because a bad economy does not create abusive personalities – only fuels them – good economic times cannot cure abusers.

Jo Anne Sanders, executive director of the Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agrees. “Someone who is an abusive person is going to be abusive whether they are out of work or working,” she said.

Smith said, however, that she has heard a different story from some victims. “There are a subset of families where the victim will say when he [the abuser] has a job and everything is going fine . . . things are more peaceful,” she said.

Despite differing views, experts agree the keys to decreasing domestic violence include education, criminal and judicial support, and a shared concern for victims. “People need to know that other people around them . . . are concerned,” Oliva said. “The more people who know about how they can be helped . . . the more likely people are to reach out for it.”