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Focus on Financial Abuse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and though there are many types of domestic abuse and violence, we’d like to bring awareness to Financial Abuse.

If we say the words financial abuse, what comes to mind? Senior abuse perhaps, but we don’t often think about financial abuse as abuse, some might say if one person earns it is their right to control household finances, others may say all the families earnings should go to one account (of which one person is the controller). Financial abuse is a common tactic used by people who choose to abuse through control and isolation of their partner, and it can have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

Financial abuse is behavior that seeks to control a person’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain economic resources, and threatens their self-sufficiency and financial autonomy. Embarrassment and fear of immigration-related repercussions are the most commonly cited reasons survivors do not seek help for financial abuse.

Image with a list, titled Financial Abuse. "Item 1: Forcing a partner to miss, leave, or be late to work. 2: Harassing a partner at work. 3: Controlling how money is spent. 4: Withholding money or basic living resources. 5: Giving a partner an 'allowance.' 6: Stealing money, credit, property, or identity from a partner. 7: Forcing a partner to file fraudulent legal or financial documents or overspend on credit cards."
Image with words: "Though financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, a 2014 study showed that 78% of Americans did not recognize financial abuse as a form of domestic abuse."

The Impact of Abuse

Financial abuse against women has its roots in many traditional cultural norms. Women not owning or being able to inherit property, women not working or having bank accounts, etc. Though overall, culture and legal rights have changed, there are still many that follow traditional practices, especially in our South Asian culture. Women might go to college and pursue advanced degrees, but are told by family or husbands not to work; families may still pass on wealth to the male heirs; and women may not live independently of their families before marriage and often don’t learn many basic financial skills. Immigration adds another complication, as many immigrant women may not learn to drive, may not have a work visa, and may not have the support in opening and sustaining a bank account and credit cards that are a necessity in modern life.

Many victims come to us because their partner has withheld their passport or other identification papers – so they are unable to produce identification needed for work, for benefits, to open accounts, and are very much stuck in their situations. Not to mention that their spouse may have complete control of the household finances, so they live under a constant threat of poverty along with other abuses including physical and sexual abuse.

Experiencing violence and abuse can have a long-term impact upon financial security due to decreased educational achievement, necessary sick leave, and impact on career trajectory.

Image with text: "A survivor often stays with an abuser due to concerns about economic stability. In a 2012 survey, 75% of victims said they stayed with their abusers longer for economic reasons. Of the 85% of victims who returned to their abusers, a significant number cited an inability to address their finances."
Image with text: "In a 2012 Cornell University study, over 30% of responding domestic violence programs reported that 25% or more of their clients were prohibited from opening a bank account or suffered damage to their credit from a partner. In the same study, one third of programs reported that fewer than 10% of their clients had their own credit card -- and for those clients, 60% said that it was because their partner withheld documents or prevented them from opening an account."

What can you do to prevent and address financial abuse?

Recognize the signs of financial abuse. Understand that the motive is more than someone taking your money, it is taking away your control and disrespecting your ability to make your own decisions. Though it’s a positive thing to have trust in a partner, it can be a negative to not have practical checks and balances set up.  Making sure your passwords, PINs, and important documents are secure, not lending money or opening joint accounts early on in a relationship, maybe even having credit alerts set up – are all good measures to take. Also taking care of your mental health – keeping in touch with your community (friends, family, colleagues, neighbors), talking to a therapist, or cutting off those who are displaying questionable behaviors.

Image with a list, titled Common Behaviors of Financial Abusers. "Item 1: Is unusually interested in your finances. 2: Offers to help 'make sure your bills get paid,' and hints that you may be losing your ability to do things for yourself. 3: Discourages you from working or undermines your ability to do so. 4: Steals anything from you, no matter how small or seemingly excusable. 5: Finds subtle ways to criticize you. 6: Wants you to pay for everythnig. 7: Claims that they're 'protective of you,' or that it's the way things are done in their culture."
Image with a list, titled Practical Prevention. "Item 1: Control your phone and computer access. 2: Never share your PIN/passwords. 3: Open your own mail. 4: Keep your IDs, checks, bank cards, and statements in a safe place. 5: If anything comes up missing, notify your bank and the police. 6: Regularly review bank statements. 7: Never sign a blank check. 8: Do not lend money you cannot afford to lose. 9: Do not cosign a loan or open joint accounts with a new person."
Image with list, titled Emotional Prevention. "Item 1: Maintain friendships and build a community through work, family, school, worship, et cetera. 2: It is a red flag if a new person in your life is a substance abuser or has a history of violence. It's easy to get caught up in wanting to help someone, but make yourself your first priority. 3: Take care of your mental health. If you are unhappy or down, talk to a counselor. A new relationship won't make it better and can drag you down further."

Addressing financial abuse

  • Seek help from a trained domestic violence advocate. We at SEWA-AIFW are here to help, as are many other local and national organizations
  • Run a credit check to see if there has been unauthorized use of your credit and/or put safety measures into place to keep access limited.
  • Gather identification and financial info. This includes photos or hard copies of legal or financial documents such as passports, birth certificates, bank statements, social security cards, and health records.
  • Make a plan about where to go (stay with family, locate a shelter, rent an apartment, etc.) and determine a budget of realistic costs after leaving.
  • Consider an order of protection from your abuser. An order of protection can offer survivors economic reliefs such as child support, mortgage or rent assistance, and temporary possession of property.
A collage of images. SEWA Staff holding signs that together spell a message: "Violence has become a culture. Change the culture. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month! Silence will not protect you."

sources & further reading

nnedv fact sheet

nnedv financial tips


This Post Has 4 Comments

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