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Posted at 8:05 PM ET, 05/ 8/2009

No Recession for Domestic Violence

By Marisa Katz

Peg Hacskaylo

In the past month, two families have been murdered in the Washington area by patriarchs who then committed suicide. Investigations revealed that the fathers appeared to have been suffering from the catastrophic effects of the economic downturn. Why would these men do this? Why would they value these lives so little, just when it would seem that their families were the only thing of value they had left?

The stress of the recession can be deeply troubling. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported an increase in the numbers of people reporting problems with anxiety, depression and other mental disorders related to economic turmoil.

But the recession has not been unique to these families. We are all experiencing various states of economic distress. And while suicide might seem to some like a way out in the face of devastating financial loss, it would stand to reason that only those who have placed their own financial worth over the worth of their families would consider murder a viable alternative to bankruptcy or an otherwise less lethal option. Because of the increasingly urgent need for housing and services for victims of domestic violence, it’s important that we in the Washington area have an awareness of this correlation and the misconceptions it creates, especially now as more of these crimes are being reported.

Christopher A. Wood, the Middletown, Md., man who killed his wife and three children and then himself, appeared to have been among them [“In Notes Left in Family’s Killings, Md. Man Details Debts, Depression,” April 22]. Reports indicate he was experiencing depression and anxiety and that the family faced severe financial hardships, which were believed to have contributed to his actions.

It’s not uncommon for rates of spouse abuse to increase during economic downturns. A 2004 study by the National Institute of Justice found that rates of intimate partner violence increase during times of financial strain on families.

Police reported no history of domestic violence in the Woods family or within the Parente family of Long Island, N.Y., who were killed at a hotel in Towson, Md. William Parente beat and asphyxiated his wife, Betty, and then killed their two children in a similar manner. William Parente left no suicide note, but Baltimore County’s police chief said Parente faced allegations of “questionable financial dealings.” [“Father Suffocated Family Before Killing Himself, Police Say,” April 23].

Certainly, not everyone reacts to their economic woes so violently. Even batterers don’t always go so far as to kill the objects of their abuse. But it appears that recently, in such cases, failing economic circumstances are usually the primary excuse.

In the District, where domestic violence sometimes seems commonplace, with more than 30,000 calls to police last year stemming from domestic disputes, the economy also is often cited. When District resident Erika Peters and her sons were slain on March 21, her longtime boyfriend, who was charged with the killings, was noted to have recently lost his job.

There are those who say that men are not the only people who commit such crimes. But the Justice Department reports that women are 10 times more often the victims of spousal homicides. And this has been true since before the most recent economic downturn.

I don’t believe the recession is the cause of these homicides. The issue is not that the value of women and children has decreased with the decline of the economy. The reality is that such killings have been taking place for ages, regardless of economic conditions.

Now, when legislators in the District and throughout the region are considering funding for programs addressing domestic violence, they need to ensure these wives and mothers are given the value they deserve. Rather than passively ascribing causes for these horrific tragedies, we should actively support programs that do something to stop it.

The writer is executive director of the District Alliance for Safe Housing Inc.

By Marisa Katz  | May 8, 2009; 8:05 PM ET
Categories:  crime, economy  
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