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October 20, 2014

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Domestic violence workers find truth in Harry Reid’s jobless comments

Harry Reid's comments

Sun Coverage

While conservatives attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over his statement that unemployed men are more likely to be abusive than those with jobs, local and national domestic violence groups defended the senator.

Reid made the comments Monday on the floor of the Senate during debate over a jobs bill.

“I met with some people, while I was home, dealing with domestic abuse,” Reid said. “It has gotten out of hand. Why? Men don't have jobs. Women don't have jobs either, but women aren’t abusive, most of the time. Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive. Our domestic crisis shelters in Nevada are jammed; that’s the way it is all over the country.”

Conservatives used the statement to attack the senator, with one blogger saying, "Harry's wife ought to take this as a warning come November," and a Fox News commentator saying, “It's so insane, and I don't know how much lower Harry Reid can go.”

When questioned about the statement by reporters on Tuesday, Reid defended himself and said Las Vegas’ high unemployment has led to more domestic violence.

"I’m just telling you what two people working in the field every day say," Reid said. "There’s no question that people being out of work causes more people to be involved in domestic violence."

Domestic violence groups in Nevada say joblessness doesn’t actually make a person become violent, but it does make violent situations worse.

“People that are not abusive are not all of the sudden going to turn abusive because they lose their job,” said Maria Outcalt, a spokeswoman for Safe Nest, which provides shelter and counseling for domestic violence victims in Clark County. “Abusive behavior is not just because somebody is having a hard time. It’s not going to start all of the sudden.”

The number of people Safe Nest has served in the past year remained steady, Outcalt said.

But victims’ advocates said they still think unemployment has made their jobs more difficult.

“The sense of his remarks are true, in that it can make the situation worse, but I don’t know that being out of work alone causes domestic violence,” said Sue Meuschke, executive director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence. “The economy doesn’t cause domestic violence, but certainly economic conditions can impact the circumstances.”

Victims are less likely to leave an abusive relationship when money is tight, Meuschke said.

“We’re seeing a reluctance on the part of women victims of domestic violence to leave the relationship because of the economy,” she said. “They see almost no options out there. If they leave, where are they going to get a job, where are they going to find housing, how are they going to support themselves and/or their children?”

Outcalt said that when a man is unemployed he spends more time at home, giving more time for abusive behavior to manifest itself.

In a 2004 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, researchers found that in relationships where the man is always employed, the rate of violence is 4.7 percent.

But when the man is unemployed once, that rate goes up to 7.5 percent, and if he has two periods of unemployment, the rate is 12.3 percent.

“The economy does not cause domestic violence but can make it worse,” said Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in a statement. “Senator Reid is correct in discussing how pervasive domestic violence is and what job loss can do to exacerbate the problem. The poor economy can fuel the fire of domestic violence and limit options for victims to escape. The numbers back up what Senator Reid is seeing in Nevada.”

Sun reporter Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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