Domestic violence shatters a victim’s sense of physical and emotional safety, and financial abuse makes it even harder for victims to break free from the grip of their abuser.
Financial abuse is “using money and financial tools to exert control,” according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Abusers may give victims an allowance, harass them at work or ruin their credit by opening credit cards or borrowing money and refusing to pay it off.
An abusive partner limiting a victim’s ability to save money, find housing or develop financial independence makes financial abuse one of the main reasons victims decide to stay in or go back to abusive relationships, said Kimberlina Kavern, senior director of the Crime Victim Assistance Program at Safe Horizon, a New York-based nonprofit victim assistance organization.
And it is frighteningly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in nine men have been the victim of intimate partner violence, which includes sexual and physical violence and stalking. In a 2008 study published in the journal Violence Against Women that included accounts from 103 survivors of domestic violence, 99% reported they had experienced financial abuse.
Here’s how to identify financial abuse in a relationship, and the steps to take to find safety.
Financial abuse can happen alongside physical and other types of emotional abuse, including intimidation, isolation and coercion. “What’s backing that behavior up is the constant threat of actual physical or sexual violence,” said Kim Pentico, director of economic justice at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
An abusive partner may engage in financial abuse in the following ways, according to Kavern, Pentico and Rosemary Estrada-Rade, director of digital services at the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
“Financial abuse, like other abusive tactics, starts very subtly,” said Kavern. For instance, an abuser may offer to take care of the family’s finances to reduce the victim’s duties at home. “Over time, you see that the abuser is giving them less control, and it’s serving as a way to isolate the victim,” she said.
Safely ending an abusive relationship requires making careful preparations that will protect you from the abuser.
“When you are leaving an abusive relationship, that’s when victims are in the most danger,” Kavern said. “You should have a good safety plan in place.”
That can include identifying where the abuser will be when you leave and how he or she might respond, as well as whether you’ll pursue an order of protection against them. You may also consider saving money in ways the abuser is unlikely to discover.
For instance, Pentico says survivors have brought coupons with them to the store, but instead of using them at the register, they asked the customer service desk for a refund on the difference between the regular and sale prices. It appeared on the receipt that all items were purchased at full price, but the victims put the cash refund in their own savings accounts. Here are other actions to take:
You’re not alone as a victim of financial abuse. In a 2018 survey administered to domestic violence survivors who contacted the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 67% said they stayed in or returned to abusive relationships due to financial concerns.
If you’re struggling to free yourself from your abuser, there is a community of support available to assist you at any point. To get help:
A National Domestic Violence Hotline advocate can put you in touch with local agencies that provide support finding housing and getting public benefits. Each state also has its own organizations that offer resources to victims. There is hope and happiness on the other side of financial abuse; the first step is to ask for help.
— Brianna McGurran
This article originally appeared on MagnifyMoney.
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