Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

Strains of downturn lead to rising domestic abuse

November 4, 2009


EL CENTRO, California – During tough economic times in California’s Imperial Valley the staff members at the Center for Family Solutions, dedicated to helping domestic violence victims, have as much work as they can handle.

The center is struggling to deal with a rising number of domestic abuse cases and trying to help women – and occasionally men – escape from violent partners. Lgal services director Judith Klein-Pritchard said the surge was a direct result of rising unemployment in the area and the long recession that has battered the U.S. economy.

“Abusive people are often abusive by nature, but there has to be a trigger for them to become violent,” she said. “Perhaps it’s the tension of joblessness that triggers abusive behavior because all of a sudden they don’t know how to control themselves.”

Melinda Opperman, vice president at Springboard, a nonprofit counseling group that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure in Riverside, California – to the north of El Centro and one of hardest hit areas in the country by the housing crisis – said that there was anecdotal evidence that domestic abuse was on the rise in the area.

“We are hearing of children coming into school with bruises,” she said. “The downturn has placed a lot of strain on families.”

Mary Merrill Gutierrez (below), a volunteer who got out of her abusive marriage in 2004 with help from the center, recalled how money was a trigger for her ex-husband to become violent and said that joblessness and a lack of money were leading more men to abuse their wives and children.


“There are so many women now that are learning the depth of their husbands because there is no money coming in,” she said. “And so now a man who normally isn’t violent may become so.”

“A man who has worked his whole life and has always been working for 45, 60 hours a week is home sitting on the couch and basically feeling worthless is going to eventually strike out, verbally, emotionally, physically,” she added. “I’ve heard women who have been married 25 yrs to a wonderful man and a year after he has lost his job they’re here.”

Klein-Pritchard said the center has also been affected by the downturn, as budget constraints in the state of California have meant a 50 percent decrease in funding. The center’s staff has been cut to two from five while the number of people who need help keeps going up.

The center’s shelter for abused women is full and has been for much of the past three to six months and is issuing double the number of restraining orders that it was before the recession – eight a day now compared to four before.

“We find ourselves having to prioritize and trying to work out whether a woman’s life is endangered,” she said. “Everyone needs our help, but we have to start with the most urgent cases first.”

Photos by Lucy Nicholson

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It is too bad there is not an automatic counseling mechanism resource as part of unemployment benefits to help families obtain the expensive counseling that can probably serve as pro-active preventitive maintenance in avoidance of the related increases in domestic violence corresponding with increased pressures of high-unemployment.

My marriage did not survive my financial collapse after unemployment but I’m happy that my positive relationship with my ex-wife and daughter did. It wasn’t easy and there was no fault. I let go of everything I had built and made sure I provided the best I could for my daughter on the long way down. Though the ex still divorced me, I think my ex-wife respected that I selflessly bit the bullet everytime I had to.

Unemployed men have to be prepared for any weakness in their relationship to become increased under financial distress and the best thing men can do, is be the first to seek counseling to cope with loss. Not every man seeking to cope with employment and financial loss will be able to salvage their marriage but seeking counseling will help them to cope with the many changes to their relationships and social status.

It takes a lot out of a man to go from a being a successful employed person, to the often times degrading governmental processes, and there really is no bottom.

So it is very important for unemployed men to keep in perspective the importance of their family.

Every couple confronted with adversity deals with it differently and men get plenty of blame when an important job, money and status are lost.

You can’t always expect a marriage to survive this.

But don’t let the hopelessness and helplessness turn into anger that destroys the things you truly love.

Staying strong means keeping your cool under fire.

Don’t ever let a job loss come between you and your child. A good parent is a good parent, for richer or for poorer, wife or no. You might have to go from a position of power to stacking wood and cleaning toilets but it makes you more of a man when you do it without blaming those you love.

Accept the relationship changes job loss brings and build your base for a comeback.

It’s not your fault and it is also not theirs.

Do your best.


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