“When you realize that 1 in 4 women are affected by domestic abuse and 99 percent of that number are affected by financial abuse, it’s crazy. There’s no reason we should have stats like this,” said tennis champion and Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Ambassador Serena Williams.
The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Project has helped over 1.3 million domestic violence survivors become financially empowered since its launch in 2005. For over a decade, the project has provided online resources and helped women fleeing abusive relationships establish credit, afford necessities like food and child care, and receive counseling.
The project raises awareness about an often overlooked facet of domestic abuse: financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs when a person restricts their partner’s autonomy by restricting their access to financial resources, like bank accounts and job opportunities, essentially trapping the victim in the relationship. Abusers seek to gain as much control as possible and may also tightly monitor their partners spending, forcing them to account for every purchase. When victims are limited financially, it is harder for them to leave violent relationships. In an interview with DJ Vlad, rapper Cardi B expressed that achieving financial stability was her ticket out of a physically abusive relationship.
“More than likely, we all know someone who has been affected by this issue,” said Serena. “But not enough people are aware of it, and not enough change is happening.” The issue of financial abuse is rarely discussed, and the lack of attention for the matter has made it easier for abusers to perpetrate and more difficult for victims to protect themselves or come forward. To help raise awareness, Purple Purse is unveiling a series of murals that contain messages about financial abuse across America this summer. Serena attended the debut of the first mural in the series that was unveiled in New York City’s Lower East Side. The mural was completed by designer, illustrator, and Refinery29 art director Isabel Castillo Guijarro who describes her work as being ‘bold, bright, and provocative.’
The campaign encourages people to share the photos on social media platforms with #SafeWayOut to help normalize discussions about financial abuse. Raising awareness about the issue allows people to equip themselves with knowledge so they will recognize the signs of financial abuse, understand how to avoid it, and repair their lives if they have encountered it.
"I am proud to use my voice and influence to bring more awareness to financial abuse so people can get involved and make positive change in their communities,” said Serena. “As the public becomes more comfortable talking about domestic violence and financial abuse, it will also become easier to spot the signs, help a victim or stand up to an abuser."
As for financial advice she has received herself, Serena says the best incite came from none other than Oprah Winfrey: “She said to watch every dollar that you spend. In other words, if you have a company and people are using your money, to look at every single expense,” said Serena.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.