Breaking the Cycle of Abuse: How Poverty Plays a Role

It’s often believed abuse occurs in rich and poor families alike, and while this is true, there’s no getting away from the fact that poverty has been shown to be the leading cause of abuse and neglect, and that families with an annual income of under $15,000 are 14 times more likely to suffer from abuse than families with an income of over $30,000, and 44 times more likely than such families to experience neglect, according to the federal government’s Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3). Partly this is because the parents in poor families need to work more hours, spending time apart from their children and apart from each other. It’s also because of a factor that is almost always present in abuse situations: Stress.

Stress: A Vicious Circle

The key to breaking the cycle of abuse is communication, but rational and calm discussions can only occur when people are not under pressure. If you are a single mother who works multiple jobs, a divorced dad whose paycheck goes directly to child support payments, or someone whose precarious health makes it difficult to find regular work, you’re going to find it almost impossible to find a time to have thoughtful discussions with your family. Leaving problems unaddressed increases stress. And stress, when internalized, can manifest itself in serious health problems, including various kinds of addiction. Abuse is linked to stress, and it’s well known that poor families are under much more stress that rich ones. For the poor, therapy is an unaffordable luxury.

Poverty and the Law

It’s well known that people living below the poverty threshold have less access to the programs and resources they need to help them break out of the cycle of stress and abuse, most significantly, the criminal justice system. When dealing with the law, they may need the services of an attorney and may be unaware that such services are often provided to them free of charge by various agencies. Those living under the poverty line who experience domestic abuse may not seek out available help due to various factors, including fear (they may be illegal immigrants, or they may have had bad experiences with the police), ignorance of their rights, illiteracy, and cultural factors (many cultures regard it as shameful to “wash their dirty linen in public,” and prefer to deal with their problems in the home). Without external intervention, the cycle of abuse is perpetuated.

Preventing abuse isn’t always possible, but starting with preventing stress can help mitigate some very preventable situations. Knowing the signs of stress, even in poverty is important in how families help each other and cope with a situation.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.

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