Recession begets family violence

Evidence of the recession’s effect on family violence is piling up. Here’s a rundown.

The NY Timesreports that, in New York’s recession-year court backlog,  “Cases involving charges like assault by family members were up 18 percent statewide.” Philadelphia this year has seen a 67% increase in domestic homicides:

The increase in domestic violence in Philadelphia is mirrored nationally, and experts say it is linked, in part, to the recession. In fact, data indicate that domestic violence had been falling in the 15 years before the recession took hold last year.

Similar news has come in from  Finland and the UK to Danville, VA, Madison, WI and Salt Lake City. Christina Davidson at the Atlantic has a brutal report on accumulating anecdotal evidence, much of it from service providers, that family violence is increasing – even as the economic squeeze makes it harder for women to take the plunge and leave their abusers.

Skeptically, some of this could reflect the entrepreneurial spirit among agencies that respond to domestic violence during an economic crisis that has been hard on all public service budgets. But it is corroborated by what violence, court and crime statistics I can find so far. And I haven’t passed over any reports of decreased family violence.

Some sociologists see a silver lining in the recession for families – “many couples appear to be developing a new appreciation for the economic and social support that marriage can provide in tough times” – based on a misinterpreted dip in divorces. Maybe the recession will end up stalling some divorce filings. But that kind of drop in the divorce rate we don’t need.

There was also an earlier wave of this reporting last spring. From Associated Press last April:

Across the country, these and other signs point to another troubling effect of the recession: The American home is becoming more violent, and the ailing economy could be at least partially to blame.

Last May the Mary Kay Foundation reported:

Three out of four domestic violence shelters report an increase in women seeking assistance from abuse since September 2008, a major turning point in the U.S. economy. The survey data directly connects a major reason for the increase in domestic violence to the downturn in the economy.

Of course, many families that make it do so by pulling together in good times and bad. But bad times are bad times. Unemployment increases usually lead to higher rates of violence, and downward turbulence has more bad effects than good.

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