Right-wing media figures have seized on comments Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made linking unemployment to a rise in domestic violence by suggesting that if he loses his re-election bid, then Reid, whose mother was a victim of domestic abuse, will subsequently become abusive toward his wife. Moreover, on Fox & Friends, Laura Ingraham dismissed a 2004 study, which found that "the rate of violence increases as the number of periods of male unemployment increases," to claim that Reid's comments were "lunacy" and "stigmatize the unemployed"; in addition to the 2004 study from which Reid was apparently citing, several other studies and experts indicate that there is a link between abuse and unemployment.
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Right-wing mock Reid for linking domestic abuse by men and unemployment
Doocy: "I wonder how abusive he would be if he's out of work after this next election." On Fox News' Fox & Friends, after hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Alisyn Camerota aired a clip of Reid's "stunning" and "controversial" comment, Doocy remarked, "I wonder how abusive he would be if he's out of work after this next election." [Fox & Friends, 2/23/10]
Ingraham dismisses a "2004 study about unemployment and abuse" that "some staffer gave" Reid to claim his comments are "lunacy," "insane," and fly "in the face of, obviously, personal responsibility." In a later segment on Fox & Friends, after Kilmeade asked what Reid is "building off of," Fox News contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham said:
INGRAHAM: Well, I guess some staffer gave him some 2004 study about unemployment and abuse in the United States. And he said, oh, I've run out of ideas and I'm saying the same thing all over again all the time and it's not working, so I'm going to throw out this domestic abuse line.
First of all, it totally -- yeah, it totally flies in the face of, obviously, personal responsibility. Men shouldn't hit women regardless if they're rich, poor, out of work, in work. And it also stigmatizes the unemployed. I mean, because you're unemployed, you're going to whack, you know, your wife across the face? I mean, it's just -- it's so insane, and I don't know how much lower Harry Reid can go, but I imagine that Robert Gibbs and someone at the White House today is going to have to come forward and once again try to clean up Harry Reid's mess. And here we go again. I mean, this is just -- it's lunacy. But this is, you know, where his head is at.
Jim Hoft: "Harry's wife ought to take this as a warning come November." In a February 22 blog post on Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft wrote: "While he 'was home dealing with domestic abuse' (at his home?) Harry Reid said domestic abuse has gotten out of hand. His approval rating at home is at 33% after all." After citing a portion of a February 22 The Hill blog post that quoted Reid's remarks, Hoft wrote, "Harry's wife ought to take this as a warning come November." [emphasis in original]
RedState.com: "Soon-to-be ex-Senator Harry Reid ... arrested for fear of domestic abuse after he loses his job in November 2010." RedState.com posted a Photoshopped picture portraying a mug shot of Reid holding a sign that says, "Soon-to-be ex-Senator Harry Reid ... arrested for fear of domestic abuse after he loses his job in November 2010." It also linked to The Hill's blog post about Reid's comments.
Drudge: "Harry Reid Unleashed." On his website, Matt Drudge linked to The Hill blog post with the headline, "Harry Reid Unleashed: 'Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive.'" From the Drudge Report:
Conservative media suggestions that Reid will become abusive come despite Reid's defense of his mother from domestic abuse
In his autobiography, Reid discussed protecting his mother from abuse. In his book The Good Fight, Reid wrote of an experience in which he and his brother restrained their father after he struck their mother. On Page 52, Reid wrote:
One day, when I was about fourteen, my dad obviously had had something to drink. It was summer, because I was home from my first year away at high school in Henderson. It was daytime. He was being mean to my mother. He started hitting her. That was it. I just looked over at my brother and said, "Larry, let's take him." So we did. We jumped him. I took him high, Larry took him low, and we pinned him to the floor. He was like a rock. My father was a big man, and I'd always been afraid of him. "Get offa me!" he yelled as he kicked and writhed.
He wasn't a bad man. But I'd be damned if he was going to do that to my mother again. It was the first time that we had ever done anything like that. We'd never been big enough. We didn't want to hurt him, we didn't want to hit him, but we took him down and weren't about to let him up.
Studies link abuse and unemployment, show increased abuse toward women when their partners are unemployed
Study: Rate of violence against women with unemployed partners is higher than those whose partners have stable employment. A 2004 study by Michael L. Benson and Greer L. Fox -- funded by the National Institute of Justice -- found that "the rate of violence increases as the number of periods of male unemployment increases" and "[t]he rate of violence among couples with high levels of subjective financial strain is roughly three and a half times as high as it is among couples with low subjective strain." From the study:
Two indicators of economic distress also are related to the risk of intimate violence against women. First, the rate of violence increases as the number of periods of male unemployment increases. In couples in which the male is always employed, the rate of violence is 4.7 percent. The rate rises to 7.5 percent when the male experiences one period of unemployment and to 12.3 percent when he experiences two or more periods of unemployment between waves. Second, a strong relationship is found between subjective feelings of financial strain and the likelihood of violence against a woman in an intimate relationship. The rate of violence among couples with high levels of subjective financial strain is roughly three and a half times as high as it is among couples with low subjective strain (9.5 versus 2.7 percent).
New England Journal of Medicine study: "Women at greatest risk for injury from domestic violence include those with male partners who ... are unemployed or intermittently employed." A 1999 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that "[w]omen at greatest risk for injury from domestic violence include those with male partners who ... are unemployed or intermittently employed." It stated: "We also found that intermittent employment and unemployment (both recent and long term) of the partner were risk factors. Possibly, the stress of finding work or of unemployment (alone or in combination with other factors) increases the risk that a man will physically abuse his partner."
Study: Women who are unemployed also have great risk of abuse. Another 2004 study funded by the National Institute of Justice also found a link between women's employment and socioeconomic status and their risk of abuse." From the study:
There is also significant variation in risk based on employment status. First, risk is generally lowest among those who are retired (78 % report no violence) and those who are homemakers (62.2 % report no violence). Second, risk of isolated violence is generally similar across employment types (with the exception of those retired and homemakers). Third, risk of parent-partner violence is greatest among those who report "other" as their employment status. Fourth, risk of multifaceted-multirelationship violence is greatest among those who are unemployed (6.9 %) and generally low among those who are employed full-time (2.8 %) or in the military (0.0 %). Combined with the comparatively low percentage of unemployed women that report no violence (44.2 %), this may reflect the effect of economic disadvantage on risk of violence.
Experts, reports link current recession to a rise in domestic abuse
National Network to End Domestic Violence, Jane Doe Inc. heads: "Economic stresses often lead to more frequent abuse." In a December 2008 op-ed in The Boston Globe, Mary R. Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., and Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence wrote: "Economic stresses often lead to more frequent abuse, more violent abuse, and more dangerous abuse when domestic violence already exists. Domestic violence programs report that victims experience an increase in abuse in part because out-of-work abusers have more opportunity to batter. Rhode Island, for example, has recently seen a 25 percent increase in felony-level domestic violence crimes. Victims end up with fewer opportunities to contact programs for help, attend support groups, or get away from the batterer."
The Atlantic's Davidson: "[P]rofessionals in many states [say] that the frequency and severity of abuse they've been seeing has increased significantly." The Atlantic correspondent Christina Davidson wrote in December 2009 that "[s]olid statistical analysis of the recession's impact on domestic violence won't be available for a year or more, but I've been told by professionals in many states that the frequency and severity of abuse they've been seeing has increased significantly." She quoted two experts on domestic violence and social services who agreed that recessions exacerbate abuse. From Davidson's Atlantic article:
While the recession has made it harder for victims to leave their abusers, it can also lead to greater violence. Solid statistical analysis of the recession's impact on domestic violence won't be available for a year or more, but I've been told by professionals in many states that the frequency and severity of abuse they've been seeing has increased significantly.
Brian Namey, communications director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, reports that his organization has been receiving similar feedback. "Anecdotally, we've been hearing of shelters across the country being maxed out to capacity, also that the frequency and severity of abuse is getting worse."
Except in rare cases, like some of the sensationalized incidents of familicide this year, financial stress does not create domestic abuse. One DV counselor in Indiana describes the recession as "fuel to the flame of domestic violence."
As [Connie] Sgarlata [assistant executive director of Family and Children Services of Central Maryland] explains: "Stress related to the economy is increasing stress at home. As stress increases at home, the tendency for violence increases. "
Namey agrees: "We know the economy does not create abuse, but it makes it worse. While shelters across the country have increased demand for beds, at the same time resources from the government and from corporate donors are down. Demand is up, support is down."
Domestic abuse shelter CEO: Economy is having an "alarming impact" on abuse victims. In April 2009, Susan Miller, the CEO of a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Kansas City, MO, wrote in an op-ed for The Kansas City Star that the economy is having an "alarming impact" on abuse victims and that "research indicates that unemployment puts domestic violence victims at an even higher rate of increased lethality." From Miller's op-ed:
Rose Brooks Center has provided shelter and services to victims of domestic violence for the past 30 years. As the current CEO, I feel compelled to write this letter to provide insight on the alarming impact the economic stress is having on the women and children we serve.
We all know that our nation is facing one of the most serious economic challenges it has seen in decades. We also know that this economic crisis has caused the unemployment rate to be the worst it has been in years, causing financial strain on everyone.
What many people don't realize is that during these bad economic times a batterer's level of violence towards his victims escalates and becomes more deadly.
While the economy does not create or cause domestic violence, research indicates that unemployment puts domestic violence victims at an even higher rate of increased lethality.