As the economy spirals downward, domestic abuse appears to be increasing around the region and the nation, says the Baltimore Sun. “We are clearly seeing an increase in the number of people who are looking for help,” says Carole Alexander of the House of Ruth Maryland. Its 84-bed shelter is packed; every night, seven or eight people sleep on couches and in sleeping bags in the building’s offices. At the Heartly House, a 29-bed shelter in Frederick, Md., “we are stretched to the max,” says CEO Barbara Martin.
“Economic stress is a very, very important factor in domestic violence,” says Shoshana Ringel, an associate professor of social work at the University of Maryland and an expert on domestic abuse. Ringel says that for many couples, financial problems can “definitely push things over the line.” More than half a million Americans, almost all of them women, are abused by their partners every year, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Experts say the current economic crisis is so recent that there is little hard data on an increase in abuse. But the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a leading national organization located in Austin, Texas, says that in September, it saw a 21 percent increase in the number of calls it received, compared with last year. In October, the last month for which there are statistics, the rise was 18 percent. Over the past 30 years, economic downturns have triggered surges in abuse, says professor Chitra Raghavan, a domestic violence researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.