Unemployment in particular can wreak havoc. Jackie Campbell, a domestic violence researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, says not having a job is a key risk factor not only for domestic violence and but for killings related to such violence.

And women, Rhagavan says, are generally better at finding a job after losing one. During downturns, women are more likely to take anything they can find, just to earn enough to feed their children and pay the rent. Men, on the other hand, often refuse jobs they see as below them. The result: Women become the sole earners, while their male partners end up sitting at home stewing.

Some say financial failure can have a small silver lining, offering a potential way out for abused partners. When couples and families lose a house to foreclosure and must move, victims sometimes use the opportunity to get out of the relationship and set up on their own.

The chaos of foreclosure can provide a final push that overcomes fear and inertia. "It's a golden opportunity to leave," says Kaufmann, the hot line worker.

At the same time, advocates say, many victims are staying in an abusive relationship because they can't afford to live on their own and can't find a job.

"They're staying because of the economy," says Jeanne Yeager, executive director of the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence, which helps abuse victims on the Eastern Shore. "Where are they going to go when they don't have an income? I think many women are saying 'I know what I'm in for here, but if I leave who knows what will happen?'"

Some shelters and groups, including House of Ruth, offer money to women trying to set up on their own. Requests for this aid are up, says Alexander, the executive director.

"There is a tidal wave of women coming forward saying they need financial help," she says. And because many groups are seeing a drop in charitable contributions, meeting this need is very difficult.

Rhagavan expects the situation to get worse over the coming months.

"In a recession, services get cut," she says. "Women will have fewer places to go, few places to call."

The attitude is more common among less-educated men, who are most likely to suffer in a downturn