Child abuse in the recession

More bad news from the economic crisis.

A study of abusive head trauma in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Columbus (OH) and Cincinnati finds strong evidence of an increase in unequivocal cases since the start of the recession. Using data from the Child Protection Teams at four major hospitals from January 2004 through June 2009, the researchers found a rate of 4.8 cases of abusive head trauma in children before December 2007 — which they identified as the start of the recession — and 9.3 per month after that.

They write:

Abusive head trauma is the leading cause of death from child abuse. Poverty and stress are risk factors for abuse. During an economic recession, these risks are amplified while social service supports are often decreased.

This study adds to the growing evidence of increasing family violence during the recession, and casts more doubt on the good-news theory of family stability in the crisis.

The paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, reported on here.

Intimate partner violence falls

New data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows continuing decline in the rates at which both men and women report being the victim of intimate partner violence. Victimization rates for both groups are down by more than half in the last 15 years.

Source: My chart from BJS data.

The report is based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, and therefore is not subject to the same kind of under-reporting bias you get from reports to police.

That doesn’t mean it’s error free, of course. Another measure that tends to be accurate is homicides, since just about every death is counted, and these show declines too. Both trends show the greatest declines in the 1990s, when there were overall declines in crime and violence.

Women remain much more likely to report intimate partner violence, while men are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of friends, acquaintances and strangers.

If you are skeptical that things are getting better, I can think of two possible complications. First is changing age structure, so the aging baby boomers may be getting less violent (though by now their kids are old enough to start making things worse). The other thing is more young people being single, so there are fewer “intimates” to get hurt or killed. Maybe someone has already figured this out, but the BJS numbers don’t seem to account for it.

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.