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Two Cases, Recession Bring New Attention to Domestic Violence

Experts say the economic downturn could lead to an increase in abuse of women, and make it harder to leave abusive relationships. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

President Richard Nixon used to say that the first civil right of every American "is the right to be free from domestic violence." That was forty years ago, a time of civil disorder and high crime. "Domestic violence" really meant crimes between strangers. Now it means the opposite, with two recent reminders in the news.

On February twelfth, outside Buffalo, New York, Muzzammil Hassan, a well-known local businessman, told police that his wife was dead. Officers found Aasiya Zubair Hassan with her head cut off. The couple created the Bridges TV network, an effort to unite American Muslims and increase understanding across cultures.

In the days before her death, Aasiya Hassan had taken legal steps to divorce her husband. She had also requested a restraining order demanding he stay away from her. Now he is charged with murder.

Another case involved two popular young singers. On February eighth, Los Angeles police arrested Chris Brown after a fight that reportedly left injuries on his girlfriend, Rihanna. No charges have yet been brought, but Chris Brown said in a statement that he was "sorry and saddened" over what happened.

The Justice Department says domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner in any relationship to control another partner. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse -- controlling someone's finances.

Women are more likely to experience domestic violence, but men are also victims. And groups are working to bring more attention to abusive teenage relationships.

In the United States each year, an estimated four out of one thousand females older than twelve are victims of non-fatal domestic violence. Justice Department researchers say this is down sixty percent from nineteen ninety-three.

Still, the National Network to End Domestic Violence says programs across the country served more than sixty thousand victims on any average day last year.

Researchers say women are more likely to be victimized by their partner during times of financial stress. The United States has lost more than three and a half million jobs since the recession began more than a year ago. But about half of those jobs have been lost in the last three months.

Richard Gelles at the University of Pennsylvania studies domestic violence. He says he does not expect an increase in domestic killings as a result of the economy. But he does expect an increase in other kinds of abuse. He also says the economic situation will make it more difficult for some victims to leave abusive relationships.

Physical abuse is always a crime, but domestic violence laws differ from state to state. Claire Wright at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California, says legal protections do not always cover all kinds of abuse. She also says abusers may simply change their method of exercising control, to try to reduce their chances of getting caught.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.