What Survivors Wish You Knew About Financial Abuse

By | Wednesday, September 21, 2016


As a financial coach for women, it is incredibly important to me that women are financially independent. I am passionate about helping women learn how to support themselves and use money as a catalyst to reach their dreams. Since October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, I wanted to shed light on financial abuse. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of it; it’s not a very well-known topic. But that’s not because it isn’t common — it’s because we don’t openly talk about it. In fact, financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships, and nearly 3 in 10 women have experienced domestic violence in the United States. As with all forms of abuse, financial abuse occurs across all socio-economic, educational, and racial and ethnic groups.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, financial abuse is is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. This abuse can be overt or subtle, but it is one of the most powerful ways an abuser can keep their victim from leaving the relationship.

What kind of behavior counts as financial abuse?

Financial abuse isn’t always obvious to a victim or their friends and family. It comes in many forms. It can start as something seemingly innocent, like a partner offering to help out by taking over the financial duties. But from there, it can escalate to more sinister behavior. Do you recognize any of the actions below as part of your relationship? Or that of a loved one?

Controlling assets:

  • Deciding how all of the money is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Hiding assets

Sabotaging the victim’s career:

  • Forbidding the victim to work
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace
  • Causing the victim to lose their job by physically abusing them prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities

Destroying the partner’s credit or financial standing:

  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property, or inheritance
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Refusing to pay bills

Exposing the victim to potential legal issues:

  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits and/or threatening to turn the victim in for misusing those benefits
  • Filing false insurance claims

Threatening family finances:

  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds for the victim or their children to obtain basic needs, such as food and medicine
  • Refusing to pay child support
  • Manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

How does financial abuse impact the victim?

The end goal of financial abuse is to make a victim financially dependent on the abuser so that they cannot leave the relationship. This can have wide-ranging and devastating impacts on the victim. Without access to money, survivors are often unable to obtain safe and affordable housing, or the funds to provide for themselves or their children. This can lead to fear or threat of homelessness, which can result in the victim returning to an abusive relationship. For those who do manage to leave the relationship, there can still be major residual impacts. Ruined credit scores, inconsistent employment histories, and legal issues caused by the abuser can make it very difficult to gain financial independence, safety, and long term security.

While preparing this piece, I spoke to two women who have experienced financial abuse in their lives. I wanted to make sure that I respectfully represented such a serious and important issue. I learned about the tactics used, the financial, physical, and emotional impacts, and how the abuse still affects the women to this day. This is what those women want you to know, in their words, about financial abuse.

I wish people understood that I really didn’t choose for this to happen to me. I was kept in the dark until we were $50,000 in debt and behind on our mortgage, and by then it was a choice of staying with him and my young children and trying to get him to change, or walking away. I gave it time, realized he was only going to continue to hurt us, and when my children were older, asked him to leave. By then, the debt was closer to $200,000. I begged him to get a job that would support us. I made choiceless choices every single day. I still do, many days. The pain is real, and the fear is never ending.

If there was one thing I wish other people knew about financial abuse, I think it would be that it can take multiple forms. Before my experience, I had thought of financial abuse as the “very standard” hiding or controlling of finances that one partner uses over the other partner. However, after my experience, I truly saw how financial abuse can take on multiple forms. That it can be manipulating the use of money, lying about how funds are being used, buying (or selling) very large items without discussing it with the other partner, intentionally quitting a job so your [partner] has to be the sole provider, and so on. If you, or someone you know, has a partner who is abusing the funds of their significant other, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Similar with other types of abuse, people may get defensive, but it’s important for everyone to know that they have someone on their side!

One of the most powerful ways to end shame and stigma around any type of abuse is for us to speak up, share our stories, and support each other. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share your story in the comments below.

If you are experiencing financial (or any kind of) abuse, there is help out there for you. You are not alone, and you are not to blame. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Reach out to organizations like Purple Purse and the National Network to End Domestic Violence for information and support.

Maggie is a Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach for women. She founded Maggie Germano Financial Coaching with the mission to provide women with the support and information they need to take control of their money and reach their goals. In her spare time, she likes to go to concerts, garden, brew kombucha, and travel. Follow Maggie on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook to join the Money Circle group! For more information, or to contact Maggie directly, visit her website.

Image via Unsplash

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