Economics, holidays, crime and domestic violence

An economic downturn, both locally and nationally, has apparently led to an unfortunate increase in domestic violence cases in Archuleta County and throughout the country.

Impossible to identify as strictly a product of cause and effect, the rise in domestic violence is nonetheless strongly correlated with the economic downturn.

In fact, numerous studies indicate that during a slumping economy, crime rates in general go up. According to Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, crime rates across the country have gone up in every recession since the 1950s. Studies also suggest that, among all crimes that see a rise during economic hard times, domestic violence rates tend to see the steepest increase.

As reported in the Nov. 20 SUN, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared the U.S. economy in a recession in a report released Nov. 17. The NBER revised those findings Dec. 1, announcing in a report that the U.S. economy has been in a recession since December, 2007.

The local economy — and local domestic violence cases — appear to be following right along with the national trend. According to Carmen Hubbs, executive director of the Archuleta County Victim’s Assistance Program (ACVAP), there has been a dramatic increase in domestic violence cases, not just during the past year but specifically since the national economic crash in late September. “Statistically speaking,” said Hubbs in an e-mail to The SUN, “We serve an average of 24 clients per month, but for the month of October, we saw a 75 percent increase on our average.”

ACVAP reported 42 new cases for October 2008. According to Hubbs, there were 35 new domestic violence cases in Archuleta County, a 42-percent increase over the monthly average.

District Attorney Craig Westberg verifies what Hubbs is seeing. “We’ve seen our crime numbers rise with this economic downturn,” Westberg said in a phone interview. “Our overall numbers are up slightly. Our domestic violence numbers are way up. With this year’s economic downturn, everyone is seeing it (the rise in domestic violence cases).”

Economic woes are just part of the picture, Hubbs said. “The very basis of domestic violence is when one partner tries to gain power and control over the other partner. A portion of domestic violence is economic control the offender has over the family. If economics become more burden, it is likely to increase the control, and when offenders feel a loss of control is when violence escalates.”

Unfortunately, the situation will, most likely, worsen in the coming weeks. First of all, the holiday season traditionally sees a spike in domestic violence as financial pressures brought on by the season can fuel a mixture of frustration, fear and resentment. Add holiday celebrations, and the commensurate increase in alcohol consumption, to an already volatile emotional situation and too often the result can be domestic violence.

Local law enforcement officials agree that domestic violence cases surge during the holiday season. Westberg said, “Domestic violence increases one hundred percent from other times of the year. It’s not only that we deal with twice the number of cases than other times of the year but the severity of the violence is what really picks up. People are badly injured, weapons are involved. Looking at the number of felony cases that result from domestic violence incidents is how we gauge the severity of the violence and those cases greatly increase during the holiday season.”

With a holiday season deep in the midst of a recession, the domestic violence situation could provide a shock to programs like ACVAP as well as other government and private-sector assistance agencies. Recent reports of economic indicators at both the national and local levels suggest an ever sharpening double-edged sword of increased need for assistance, a safety-net already stretched past the limits accumulating more applicants every day, and a difficult, meager holiday season ahead for too many area residents.

Colorado unemployment, in a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Nov. 21, showed a sharp increase from the previous month’s 5.2 percent number to 5.7 percent for the month of October. At the local level, the Colorado Workforce Center reports that unemployment in Archuleta County is at 5.0 percent, up from 3.6 percent reported the same time last year, and up from 4.9 percent in September, 2008.

The U.S. Labor Department reported last Friday that 533,000 jobs were lost in the month of November, far more than 320,000 job cuts that had been forecasted, and the most jobs lost in 34 years. Those lost jobs pushed the national unemployment rate up to 6.7 percent, a 15-year high, a significant rise from October’s rate of 6.5 percent. Since September, the U.S. lost 1,256,000 jobs.

Although the holidays should be a time for joy and family, too many Archuleta County residents could find themselves caught in a bind of depressed economics, holiday pressures, and an inability to cope with circumstances, a sad confluence of what should be happy times and what could be hard times.

jim@pagosasun.com