Awareness for Avoidance: Domestic Violence in a Down Economy

By Angela Matson

When times are hard in the workplace, the family is often the epicenter of suffering. Today’s depressed economy is putting unprecedented strains on parents, who must plan for an uncertain future and face up to a number of often unrealized dreams. Not knowing what lies ahead can bring disappointment, stress, and even anger. A number of reports have linked the down economy to an increase in domestic violence incidents and many starting a career as a criminologist are beginning to grapple with how to deal with the problem.

The news is not all bad, however. By learning to manage expectations and stress, potential perpetrators can avoid outbursts–and by understanding the warning signs, incidents can be stymied by victims and others before the damage reaches its full throttle.

A national survey published in early 2012 found that rates of domestic violence have risen steeply in the face of the economic downturn. The survey, with collected data from more than 700 police agencies, showed an increase of 40% over the results of a similar 2010 study.  The National Domestic Abuse Hotline, an agency based in Austin, Texas, has also seen a rise in calls from men and women seeking help with problems of domestic abuse. Spokeswoman Ritha Fielding notes on the hotline’s website that volunteers are reporting that many of the callers cite money problems as a cause of abuse.

Naturally, financial problems are a serious source of stress within a family, no matter the economic outlook. The problem today is that a disproportionately high number of people find themselves with money woes. Not all family members will react to these stressors in the same way. Violence is not always a given, but it does seem to be happening more and more.

Domestic violence is usually understood to encompass a rather wide pattern of abuses. It often involves physical battering and sexual abuse, but can also include emotional isolation, controlling behaviors, or intimidation. Within the home, family members can work to stop abuse by acknowledging and managing stress and reaching out for help. Although males can certainly be victims of domestic abuse, the majority of cases involve female victims.

What Men Can Do
The Respect Helpline, a hotline for domestic abuse perpetrators, offers help to those who have abused or who are trying to avoid abusing someone they love. The hotline’s number one piece of advice is to reach out for help, and counselors and volunteers are always more than happy to talk through anger and frustration with callers. There are resources available to assist all members of a family, many of them free, but in order to get help, the family must first ask.

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline also offers services and referrals for individuals who want help for their abusive behavior. Their website offers information on how to tell if you are being abusive. Many perpetrators are surprised to learn that yelling, cursing, controlling and using demeaning names can all be considered abusive.

Interventions for perpetrators of domestic violence center on treating the underlying causes of the behavior, which are frequently patterns that have developed over many years. The process of changing these patterns can also be a long one. The number one thing that an abuser can do is to remove him or herself from a potentially explosive situation. For long-term change to happen, the abuser must also learn new ways to cope with stressors that can touch off negative interactions.

What Women Can Do
It is important for women to recognize the signs of abuse, and to have a safety plan in place.
Signs of abuse are not always as obvious as violent physical attacks. Extreme jealousy and controlling behavior, financial control such as withholding money for necessary expenses or taking away possessions, the use of demeaning names and screaming are all forms of abuse. Women are naturally nurturers and often want to do whatever they can to fix a situation, even if it means being submissive. It can be especially difficult for a woman to stand up for herself when the family is suffering financially, and she may even find herself lashing out in anger. Keeping control of emotions and keeping an eye on safety are keys to avoiding an explosive situation.

Experts from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline recommend documenting the abuse and planning for safety. This includes keeping a “safety bag” in the house that would contain items needed in case of a quick departure. Avoiding an abusive or dangerous situation is always the safest route and children should be instructed to go for help if needed and to never get involved in any sort of altercation.

In any type of domestic violence emergency, the first thing to do is to call 911. Emergency responders can assist with immediate safety. Alternatively, for emergency or preventive advice, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (800-799-SAFE) offers counseling and advice by phone, and can offer referrals to local counselors for more in-depth help.

Domestic violence is a serious problem. The down economy seems to be bringing it out, but financial troubles and uncertainty are never an excuse for abuse. Being aware of triggers, focusing on the positive, and having a plan in place are three of the best ways to keep domestic violence in check. Professionals are always on hand to offer advice and counseling, as well. Working together and being proactive are two of the best ways to stamp out the problem.

Angela Matson holds a BA in Psychology and has previously worked as a counselor for at-risk youth. She currently works as a part-time freelance writer to free up time to be a stay-at-home mother.

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