Note: This post may contain triggers for those who have been in abusive relationships or been through sexual assault.
What is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is when the person ‘in power' – the abuser – controls their victim's access to money, including:
- Controlling their spending
- Stealing their money, credit, property, or identity
- Denying them access to financial accounts and credit cards
- Hiding assets from them
- Keeping them from getting or keeping a job or pursuing education or training
Essentially, it's a control tactic 99% of domestic/intimate partner violence abusers use to keep their victims trapped.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the U.S.
“Each year, more women are touched by domestic violence than breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and lung cancer combined.” ~ Purple Purse, Allstate Foundation
One in four women is known to be a victim of domestic violence sometime in their life. This means we all likely know someone, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a co-worker, neighbor, friend, or ourselves, who has experienced physical, emotional, and financial abuse.
Domestic Violence Does Not Discriminate
Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of domestic violence/abuse can be occurring at any one time within the same intimate relationship. ~ NDVH
Recognizing the Signs of Financial Abuse
If you can answer yes to even one of these questions, you may be a victim of financial abuse. If you find yourself nodding yes to more than one, you're very likely in a financially abusive relationship.
Does your partner:
- Tightly control the household finances and spending?
- Limit your bank account or financial institution access?
- Act as if your money and any assets are theirs and/or spends your money without your knowledge?
- Withhold money from you or only give you an “allowance” they determine without your input?
- Require a detailed accounting of all your spending?
- Criticize your spending or financial choices?
- Use credit cards in your name with no intention of paying the balance?
- Control and/or access your children’s savings accounts or funds without your agreement?
- Threaten to cut you off financially over misunderstandings or disagreements?
- Not work or contribute financially to the household or help with household tasks?
- Take your money without permission or borrow money and not pay it back?
- Falsely claim to make payments on bills or accounts in your name but do other things with the money instead?
- Insist you quit your job?
- Make it difficult for you to get to work or meet your work responsibilities?
- Criticizing your job or career choice?
- Belittle your accomplishments?
- Try to control where, when, and how often you work?
- Pester you while you're at work?
- Insist they manage any company-sponsored retirement accounts or other financial benefits?
- Get in your way of attending training, higher education, or other career-advancing opportunities?
- Become physically or emotionally abusive to you over any financial matters?
We know that without adequate financial means, victims often feel unable to break free from their abusive relationships. But assistance is available.
If you are in an abusive situation, develop a path to safety, reach out to family or friends, and use the resources below for help.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline – Advocates are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) in more than 200 languages, TTY 1-800-787-3224. All calls are free and confidential.
Theresa's Fund and DomesticShelters.org – A searchable directory of domestic violence programs and shelters in the U.S. and Canada.
Numerous resources are also provided by the Purple Purse, an Allstate Foundation, dedicated to ending domestic violence through financial empowerment of the victims.
“Helping women take control of their finances” is our tagline here at Women Who Money, as we too believe financial empowerment is fundamental to being in control of your life.
View our articles by category or level, using the drop-down menu under the ‘Articles' tab at the top of this site, or use the search tool in the sidebar to find relevant information.
Should you know of someone in need of help, please share the resources mentioned above.
If you're moved to help support victims who need aid with shelter, food, counseling, legal assistance, and more, you can find ways to donate to the national hotline here or see the wish list of a domestic shelter near you here.
Article originally published: October 2018 and updated October 28, 2020
Vicki and Amy are authors of Estate Planning 101 – a Crash Course in Planning for the Unexpected -coming soon from Adams Media.