Designing Policies That Address the Relationship between Woman Abuse and Economic Resources

Article excerpt

Given the disproportionate and increasing number of impoverished women, and poor women's increased vulnerability to woman abuse, it is crucial we examine economic policies in regards to their equity and adequacy for abused women. Current policies and programs designed to address the economic resources/needs of abused women are analyzed. Limitations in current policies are addressed, and a recommendation is made for the formation and implementation of a policy that would serve to empower women economically. Both the prospect and achievement of economic independence for women may not only reduce woman abuse, but will also increase women's options for economic security.

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In western culture the abuse of women by their partners can be traced back at least as far as Romulus, the founder of Rome, who around 753 B.C.E. formalized the first known law of marriage (McCue, 1995; Wallace, 1996). While social policies have changed over the years in regards to woman abuse, many of the myths and biases about women and abuse persist. Consequently, contemporary policies and programs targeting woman abuse are inadequate. As noted by Gutierrez (1987), "feminist and sociological theories encouraged social workers to place responsibility for battering on society ... [but] for the most part social workers were not encouraged to work toward larger social changes as much as toward local reforms or changing their daily practice" (p. 45). Not surprisingly then, in a national study examining services and programs designed to assist abused women, Davis, Hagen, and Early (1994) found that the majority of services offered across the country focus on two types of interventions, providing counseling/supportive services and temporary protection.

Given the shame and fear women often experience in revealing their abuse, woman abuse continues to be underreported (McCue, 1995). However, estimates are that each year 4 million women will experience battering in an intimate relationship, and over their lifetimes, 25% of all women will experience such abuse (Postmus, 2000). Indeed, woman abuse is a leading cause of female injury and death (Mills, 1996). When women attempt to leave an abusive relationship, they often risk losing their children in custody battles (Bryan, 1999). They also risk economic hardship such as losing their homes and possessions (McCue, 1995). Findings from the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1990 indicate that a woman who leaves her abusive partner faces a 50 percent chance that her standard of living will drop below the poverty line (McCue, 1995).

Not only are women more vulnerable than men to impoverishment (Abramovitz, 1996; Kemp, 1994; Zopf, 1989), but poor women are also more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner than are women from higher economic levels, with women on welfare experiencing the most severe violence (Kurz, 1998). While "domestic violence is a factor in approximately 6 percent of all U.S. households, 20 to 30 percent of women receiving welfare are current victims of domestic violence--a considerable over-representation" (Raphael, 2000, p. 5).

Although the connection between woman abuse and economic security for women has been made, few detailed policy recommendations have been forthcoming. Even when authors emphasize women's economic needs, the tendency is to focus on only one or two economic components and seldom on long-term economic security (Christy-McMullin, 2000). Therefore, after highlighting the interrelated nature of woman abuse and economic security through a critical examination of the relevant literature, limitations inherent in contemporary services and policies will be discussed and a recommendation made for policy formulation which promises to address the various economic needs faced by abused women.

Six Components Of Economic Security For Abused Women

Research suggests that increasing economic independence for women will not only decrease violence within an intimate relationship, but also provide women with the needed economic resources to leave an abusive relationship if they so desire. …