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July 8, 2010 / Robyn Swirling

The women of the BP oil spill and the men who hit them

No, this isn’t a post about female employees at British Petroleum. This is about the women in the Gulf Coast whose lives have been upended by the spill because they are married to fishermen. Mac McClelland published an article a couple weeks back on Mother Jones discussing fishermen’s wives and their lives since the spill, fraught with depression, anxiety, economic insecurity, and violence.

These are the same women who have only begun to pick their lives back up since Katrina. They are on food stamps, but are used to relying on their husbands’ income to provide for other essentials like dish soap and toilet paper that they can’t buy with food stamps. So when their husbands have lost their jobs, and the check from BP is eight days late, what are they supposed to do?

That’s what these women would like to know.

Many of the fishermen, since they can no longer fish, have gone to work doing spill cleanup for BP. Their salaries are capped at $200 per day, far less than these men were making last June. Their salaries can’t provide for their families in remotely the same way they used to.

Part of working for BP is a routine drug test.

“They can’t smoke pot anymore. It’s just a part of the culture, all the fishermen do it, but now they have to take drug tests to get the cleanup work. So now they goin’ drinkin'” says one wife.

“My husband’s goin’ drinkin’. My husband comes home and screams at me. The food’s not good enough, the floors aren’t clean enough. That’s why I’m here, for him to take it out on me.”

The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama says that domestic violence incidents are up 320% since the spill. A 2004 report by the National Institute of Justice found that increases in unemployment lead to dramatic increases in the rate of domestic violence. There is a 2.8% increase in domestic violence incidents when a woman’s partner experiences a period of unemployment, as compared to when the partner is employed. When the partner is unemployed two or more times, there is a 7.6% increase.

An increase in spending for domestic violence prevention and shelters in the gulf coast states would be a great asset. Seeing how the people affected by the BP spill have been treated thus far, however, I wouldn’t count on that being a priority. So let’s make it one.

Depression, Abuse, Suicide: Fishermen’s Wives Face Post-Spill Trauma [Mother Jones]

Patterns of Violence Against Women: Risk Factors and Consequences [National Institute of Justice]


One Comment

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  1. cate3710 / Jul 12 2010 11:23 am

    “The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama says that domestic violence incidents are up 320% since the spill.”

    Jesus. That’s horrific.

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