One of the lesser spoken of aspects of domestic violence is also one that can make it difficult at best once the victim leaves to rebuild their lives. Financial abuse is yet one more trap put in place by abusers to hold their victims hostage. Despite what many on the outside view as a cop-out on the victim’s part, this is a genuine concern, especially when there are children involved, chronic medical conditions, and if the victim lives in an area where resources are scarce.
It is not always easy to find resources to help get back on your feet. In regard to shelter alone, as a woman with no children, the advocate working to help me find a place to go resorted to calling outside the county, because there was no place in my county for me to go. Fortunately for me, my father intervened and gave me shelter, despite my putting up a fight because Kevin had made countless threats against him. Since Medicaid and foodstamp benefits were also recently cut, a single mother in my situation would be almost immediately paralyzed in trying to even secure the basic necessities for herself and her children who depend on her to keep them fed, sheltered, and safe. The idea of emergency shelter in my county? A cheap motel.
If a current victim of domestic violence has confided in you but has also told you the she (he) is afraid to leave and gives one of the reasons she feels she cannot as financial reasons, don’t write her (him) off as being weak or not ready to leave. Here are valid reasons why financial abuse keeps victims with the abuser:
1. The victim is not allowed to work and has no access to money. He/she may also have no family in the area, and has most likely been cut off from most, if not all, friends.
2. The victim has children whose care depends on the other parent’s paycheck, and he/she will undoubtedly withhold this from the victim if he/she leaves.
3. The victim or a child may have a chronic medical condition which requires them to rely of their spouse’s benefits.
Past the three instances I mentioned above, many are unclear as to what exactly constitutes financial abuse. Courtesy of the National Network to End Domestic Violence‘s website, here is a list of things that are financial abuse. It is not, by any means, all inclusive, but it gives everyone a clear idea of what a victim who is also subjected to financial abuse endures at the hand of the abuser. The abuses I was subject to I have designated by red text followed by additional information in blue text.
Forbidding the victim to work — He forced me to accept work out of state and then leave my job; the offer was later rescinded leaving me unemployed.
Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews — When I put my notice in at a job in 2010, I was informed because of his stalking behavior, I was about to be fired. Also, when I applied for positions while unemployment, I was only allowed to apply for jobs where he expected I would be working with women.
Controlling how all of the money is spent — He made me account for all the money I spent from my own paycheck down to the penny. I was “properly punished” if I could not get the exact amount to add up to his satisfaction. He also decided what we would pay and when. Most of the time, we did not pay because had used the money on drugs.
Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts — He overdrew my checking account twice. Despite bringing this to the bank’s attention, their only response was to tell him to “Be more careful” and I was put in a situation where I was forced to pay it back. The second time I was unable to, because he was using all the money on drugs. He also insisted on having my cards in his wallet at all times.
Withholding money or giving “an allowance” — When he did work he got paid for, he would sometimes give me $40 and tell me to get groceries for the month for both of us and what I needed for the cat as well. I never had an “allowance” to spend on myself.
Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities — The only time I was “allowed” to attend these workshops, he had to be in the county building with me. Otherwise, I was expected not to go, and I was punished if I did in addition to being accused of doing something else. This also includes meetings for unemployment.
Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts — We had no joint accounts. He just took over mine. Credit cards maxed out and went unpaid. Checking account was drained … overdrawn $1000 twice, and the little bit I had in savings was seized by the bank.
Refusing to work or contribute to the family income — He claimed work in his field was hard to find, but even so, he refused to work at any place that was “below” him. Meaning, he didn’t work.
Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine — I was not given money to pay copays, for prescriptions, or the counseling appointments and antidepressants I was prescribed. This included no eye appointments or dental visits, while he made sure he was able to go. He also spent all available money on drugs so there was no money for food. We relied on what meager things the food pantries could provide and the sporadic once a month $40 I mentioned above.
Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance — He routinely sold electronics, DVDs, clothing, and shoes of mine to dealers to get drugs. He also beat me up for a few days until I relented and gave him money from my 401K.
Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score — All my credit accounts were maxed out and closed. He refused to let me pay taxes I owed the IRS and the State, in addition to student loans. Pretty much any other bill I could think of. Everything got sent to credit, the student loans defaulted, and the tax depts. were coming after me. (I have since paid the taxes back)
Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
Filing false insurance claims
Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets
For more information on financial abuse, please visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence.