June 14, 2009

Domestic Violence Reports Rising in Economy

Financial stress getting physical

WASHINGTON (NBC) - A tragic by-product of America's economic problems is a rise in domestic violence. Doctors and social workers are seeing more battered women and abused children. As families struggle to pay their bills, sometimes all that financial stress gets physical.

After more than 20 years of verbal and physical abuse, Kathryn Fukusawa thought things couldn't get worse, then the recession hit. "When I couldn't support the family anymore due to my depression and the economics not being, not allowing me to find a job, that the abuse become much more severe," Kathryn said.

After Wall Street collapsed last fall, more than half the calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline came from women like Kathryn whose financial situation had changed.

This year, nearly three out of four shelters report seeing more women in crisis with money problems, many related to stress and job loss. "Families who never had abuse in their relationships are absolutely being pushed to the stressing point where things are getting more explosive than they had been," Jane Randel with Liz Claiborne said.

Today, Liz Claiborne and the Family Violence Prevention Fund report half the teenagers with parents stressed-out over money are seeing verbal, emotional and physical abuse at home, and often end up in abusive relationships themselves.

"It's simple: kids watch what their parents do," Esa Soler with Family Violence Prevention Fund said. "They learn what their parents do, and they repeat it."

Boston hospitals suspect the economy's to blame for increasing cases of child abuse. "Toilet training or um, learning to talk, having frustrations, having meltdowns, and for a parent who's already stressed, those behaviors can be very provocative," Dr. Alice Newton with the Children's Hospital Boston said.

With no income, Kathryn had a tough choice: take the abuse, or be homeless. Eventually, she left. "It took me 10 months to find a job, but I went through those 10 months diligently knowing that I was going to have to persevere," Kathryn said.

Researchers have found that couples under financial strain are three times more likely to experience domestic violence.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, advocates urged Congress to beef up the laws that protect victims, mostly women and children.

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