DALLAS, Texas- We can now identifiably link poverty and domestic violence as not just individual indicators for each other, but as two states of disenfranchisement that function independently, as well as frequently together, and that have similar impacts on both individuals and communities.
The numbers in the recession have added up, and each year since 2008 we have witnessed an increase in reported cases, in women and families seeking assistance, and even in reports of abuse becoming more violent.
Numbers in 2010 released by the Mary Kay Foundation from a survey on women’s shelters reported 78 percent of shelters have seen a rise in the numbers of women seeking help, and 58 percent report, horrifyingly enough, that the abuse they are documenting is even more violent than what has been seen previously.
For a long time news media sources have reported not only individual stories of abuse related to economic stresses or poverty, but the thematic occurrence of poverty and abuse spawning each other, and the patterns of data linking the two together.
It’s not as simple as poverty breeds violence. Individuals from all economic circumstances experience violence. Abuse is dehumanizing enough without making it an issue of class. Poverty exacerbates the occurrence and severity of violence in those already experiencing it. Poverty doesn’t directly cause physical violence or abuse, but is, in a human rights context, a form of violence that occurs along economic parallels rather than physical ones. Extreme poverty is a form of structural violence, and as all human rights are related and intertwined, so are the different manifestations of violence that we experience.
Violence and abuse often incur costs without the introduction or involvement of poverty. The cost of violence is often the continuation of poverty, or economic deprivation or exploitation, or the hindrance of economic rights. The truth about poverty is that it stems from social injustices that emerge from multiple parallels, and educational deprivations can contribute to poverty just as much as the cage of domestic violence can.
The relationship between poverty and domestic violence isn’t linear. Economic stresses incite violence, and economic stress stems from violence. It’s a downward spiral in the relationship between poverty and abuse. Being trapped in poverty or violence often implies being trapped in the other, because the two are so synonymous with human suffering and function to dehumanize individuals in a similar fashion through similar mechanisms.
It is difficult to escape poverty while being abused. Those trapped in it are already at a disadvantage, and the abuse only further limits the person and further reduces agency, autonomy and available resources. It is arguably more costly to stay trapped in relationships ruled by domestic violence. However it is often so difficult to leave a violent relationship that it may seem leaving is the more expensive option.
Efforts to leave violent relationships or circumvent abuse often force the victim to incur numerous costs, and the effects of violent abuse inundate our legal and health systems creating even further need for intervention and social services. Many risk the threat of losing their job, their home, health care, or access to income and financial support. When victims follow the law and seek justice through legal channels, there are often large fees attached to criminal and civil actions and procedures. At times, attempting to leave abusive relationships can cause further poverty and further threats of abuse.
Poverty reduces options and, when coupled with violence, destabilizes basic security not just for those in the violent relationship, but for everyone connected to them and the larger community in which they exist.
Combating either poverty or domestic violence means acknowledging the relationship between the two and focusing on human rights as a means to redress both. When poverty and abuse are finally seen as issues of human rights, their underlying causes and potential alleviations are visible through the same lens.
Violence along any parallel is the most explicit violation of the individual, and human rights mechanisms work to retain all rights for all people through universal access and protection. By ensuring safety and security across all parallels of violence, we secure it for all persons. In securing rights for everyone we reinforce their universality and the very premise of the rights of each individual.
– Nina Verfaillie