Judge Jeanine Pirro weighs in on reports that say financial stress can cause a spike in abuse against women.
Around the country, local news reports are linking the faltering U.S. economy and an increase in cases of domestic violence. We asked Jeanine Pirro, a judge in Westchester County, N.Y. and a momlogic contributor for her take on this disturbing trend. Pirro, a tireless pioneer in fighting for women's rights and against sexual abuse, talked with us about how the economy can trigger violence in families. Plus, she offered suggestions on how to change a victim's life.
momlogic: It was recently reported that a poor economy creates a rise in domestic abuse. Any idea why?
Jeanine: Any type of stress in an attacker's life will contribute to domestic violence, but let's be clear: First you must have a man who is willing to beat his wife. And although there is no direct link to abuse and the fluctuations of the economy, an abuser will use job stress as an excuse to abuse. That said, studies do show during the holiday season (a universally stressful time) or in the summer (when people are hot and irritable), domestic abuse tends to increase. But there are also men who batter their wives because dinner isn't ready, or because the Red Sox lost. An abuser has no rhyme or reason and being violent is a choice.
momlogic: What are the warning signs someone you know is being abused?
Jeanine: It often starts with having a gut feeling, but there are certain clues you should tune into: The person starts wearing makeup (to cover her bruises) when she never wore any before. Or maybe she makes excuses for why she can't be social, or talks about being clumsy a lot. Usually there is a marked change in her behavior.
momlogic: Domestic abuse is often labeled a crime of passion. Is this a dangerous or misleading statement?
Jeanine: Calling domestic violence a crime of passion implies there is justification for why it happens. In the past, police didn't take violence in the home seriously and chalked it up to a "marital spat"--especially if both the husband and wife claimed to be the victim. I helped pass a law that required cops to decide on the scene which party was at fault. Now police know they are accountable if they don't report a domestic violence call.
momlogic: You chaired the New York State Commission on Domestic Violence Fatalities; can you describe what that accomplished?
Jeanine: We studied homicides in New York City and created a profile for abuse victims. We looked at where these women lived and if they had filed police reports against their attackers before. We found that women who were killed by their husbands were brought into the system for the first time as fatalities. They had never filed a police report before, which means they had suffered years of abuse in silence.
momlogic: Did your efforts prompted more states to become involved in this topic?
Jeanine: Yes! It's true that in California it's illegal for companies to fire an employee for being a victim of domestic violence or for missing work to testify against her attacker. And companies must pay unemployment to women who had to quit their jobs to escape their attackers. And in New York, kids can't be taken from their homes if they witnessed their mom being attacked. Also, insurance companies that refused to cover treatment of victim's injuries have changed their tune. We have a lot more work to do, but we've come a long way.
momlogic: What do you want your daughter to know about domestic violence?
Jeanine: It's never too early to teach kids that no one should be touching or hitting others. I fought for a law that made it a crime for fathers to beat their wives in front of the children because violence is learned behavior.
momlogic: But what can we do to stop violence against women?
Jeanine: Find out where the battered women's shelters are and encourage victims to take photos of their bruises, and make a record of the abuse. It can be difficult to speak up if you don't want to pry, but it's better to say something and be wrong. It's our obligation to each other as women. And check out The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (http://www.ncadv.org/) for tips on how to get involved.
Jeanine Pirro will host a court television show called Judge Jeanine Pirro, on the CW network, premiering Sept. 22.