Today’s a serious one and includes a content warning: I’ll be discussing domestic violence and intimate partner abuse. So take care and skip this one if you need to. If you’re in an unsafe situation, or know someone who is, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or by texting “START” to 88788.
I’m writing this not to solve the problem or offer solutions, but to raise awareness. April is financial literacy month and I cannot think of a more pressing topic to address because:
Up to 99% of domestic violence victims experience economic abuse during an abusive relationship, and finances are often cited as the biggest barrier to leaving an abusive relationship (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
The Prevalence of Intimate Partner/Domestic Violence
I serve on the board of my local domestic violence support/prevention organization and I’ve been thinking for years that I should write about financial abuse. I’ve delayed because I didn’t know how to broach the topic or make it “interesting” or “fun.” Well, it’s not fun and there is no easy on-road to this conversation, so I’m just going to go for it.
A Frugalwoods reader emailed me a few months ago to share her story of surviving domestic violence and encouraged me to write a post about it because, as I’ve learned:
“Economic abuse is a very common reason victims stay in abusive relationships” (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
In other words, victims often don’t leave their abuser because they can’t afford to.
To be transparent, I’m not a survivor and don’t have first-hand experience with domestic violence. Please know I’m writing from the perspective of a volunteer and an advocate for survivors, but not as a survivor myself. Additionally, I’m not a professional domestic violence advocate or therapist, so my knowledge is not as thorough or informed as a professional’s.
You, like me, might assume you don’t know anyone suffering from violence in their home; sadly, you’re probably wrong. You probably do know someone. You just don’t know you know.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.
Furthermore, domestic violence isn’t just physical in-home violence, it also encompasses, but is not limited to:
- Stalking, either in-person or online/via phone
- Rape and sexual coercion/violence/abuse
- Harassment of any type
- Economic abuse (including restricting a victim’s ability to work/keep a job, have reliable transportation, etc)
- Emotional/psychological abuse (such as: not allowing a victim to connect with friends and family)
- Technological control or abuse (for example: restricting a victim’s access to technology/the internet)
Understanding Domestic Violence: The Power and Control Wheel
This chart is a concise, thorough examination of the many tentacles of physical and sexual violence, which I find helpful in illuminating the various forms and evolutions of abuse. The only beef I have with this chart is that it uses the pronouns “she/her” when research shows that plenty of “he/hims” and “they/thems” are also abuse victims and survivors.
I want to focus on the economic impact of intimate partner/domestic violence today, but I think it’s useful to remember that the ramifications of abuse are broad, horrific and likely much more prevalent in your community than you may realize. Let’s zero in on the “Using Economic Abuse” section of this chart.
What Is Economic Abuse?
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines it as follows:
Economic abuse involves maintaining control over financial resources, withholding access to money, or attempting to prevent a victim/survivor from working and/or attending school in an effort to create financial dependence as a means of control.
Victims and survivors are often forced to choose between staying in abusive relationships and poverty or even homelessness.
Many of us–myself included–take for granted our ability to work how and when we want and our ability to manage our own money. For people in abusive relationships, money can be used as a tool for control, isolation and disempowerment.
To more deeply understand economic abuse, I encourage you to watch this video interview with Terera, a financial abuse survivor.
Why Don’t They Just Leave Their Abuser?
This is the response I used to have when I read about people trapped in abusive relationships, because I didn’t understand that it’s not that simple. When your financial life is intertwined with another person–or completely controlled by that person–it’s challenging to extricate yourself in the best of circumstances.
Most of us know someone/are someone who has gotten divorced. And we know the incredible effort, time and legal involvement that usually takes place to ensure both parties have an equitable division of the previously jointly-held resources. Now imagine that situation with a violent, abusive partner. Many victims/survivors come out of an abusive relationship with no assets and often with coerced debt/ruined credit (debts the victim was forced to assume on behalf of the abuser).
Plus, as I learned from the Executive Director of our local support organization, the answer victims most often give to the “why don’t you just leave” question is:
Because then they really will kill me.
1) If this enrages you, or motivates you, or makes you feel like you need to do something, please consider volunteering for your local domestic/intimate partner violence organization.
- These nonprofits are everywhere, probably right under your nose and you don’t even realize they’re there. I didn’t know until I looked.
- Much like the survivors they serve, these organizations often fly under the radar to protect their clients. Seek them out and see how you can help.
- Since domestic abuse isn’t something people like to think about or talk about, it’s also something people don’t consider supporting financially.
- It’s a lot more palatable to donate to a soup kitchen or an animal shelter. It’s a lot more challenging to donate to a domestic violence support organization because it exposes the prevalence of abuse in our own communities.
- So please, consider how you might help out. If you live near me, feel free to be in touch directly (email@example.com) because our local organization is in need of volunteers right now.
3) If you’re in an abusive situation, please know there are resources available to you when you’re ready to reach out.
- There are trained advocates who can help you navigate the legal system, provide you with housing assistance, financial support, counseling, a safety plan and more. Reach out when you’re ready.
- You can start with your local organization or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or texting “START” to 88788.
From the National Network to End Domestic Violence:
- Financial Abuse Toolkit
- Financial Tips for Survivors: Six tips for domestic violence victims and survivors that are seeking to secure their financial future
- Financial Abuse Fact Sheet
From the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
From the Allstate Foundation: