Financial Abuse: Identifying it and finding help
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Note: This post may contain triggers for those who have been in abusive relationships or been through sexual assault.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the U.S.
Domestic Violence (Including Financial Abuse) 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
What is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is when the person ‘in power' – the abuser – controls their victim's access to money.
A financially abusive partner may engage in forms of abuse, including:
- Controlling their victim's spending and financial decisions
- Keeping them from getting or keeping a job or pursuing education or training
- Hiding assets from them
- Stealing their money, credit, property, other financial resources, or identity
- Denying them access to financial accounts, debit cards, credit cards, and credit reports
- Damaging their credit histories and ruining their credit scores
Essentially, it's a control tactic 99% of domestic/intimate partner abusers use to keep their domestic violence victims trapped in an abusive situation and cycle of financial dependence, threatening their long term security.
“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 abuse some time in their life.
This means we all likely know someone, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend, or ourselves, who has experienced physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, and/or economic abuse.
Recognizing the Warning 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 two or more signs of abuse, you're very likely in a financially abusive relationship.
Does your partner:
- Tightly control the household finances and spending?
- Limit your access to bank accounts, investment accounts, credit card companies, financial documents, or other 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, deny you access to assets, 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 lines or credit cards in your name with no intention of paying the debt or monthly payments?
- 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 joint accounts, the household budget, 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 or deter you from exploring better employment opportunities?
- 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 advancement opportunities to increase your income?
- Try to force you to sign a power of attorney or other legal documents giving them control over or access to funds, real property, or other financial assets?
- Engage in physical violence or become emotionally abusive to you over any financial matters?
Preparing to Break Free
We know that without adequate financial means, victims of various types of abuse or undue influence often feel unable to break free from their abusive spouse or partner.
But helpful information and assistance are available.
If you're in an abusive relationship, develop a path to safety, reach out to family or friends, increase your financial literacy, and use the resources below for help.
Start assembling important items and any economic resources you can for you and any children, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank statements, credit card statements, insurance policies, insurance identification cards, and credit reports.
Read, How Can I Get Out of a Financially Abusive Relationship? for more on escaping an unhealthy relationship, taking back financial control, and getting your life and personal finances on more solid ground.
Helpful Resources for Victims of Abuse
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.
- Purple Purse Moving Ahead Curriculum for Financial Empowerment
- Ways You Can Help
“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.
Start here for articles on some of our most popular topics, explore categories of interest, or explore the articles below for information on improving your financial health and creating a solid financial foundation for your future.
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 violence shelter near you here.
Next: How to Avoid Financial Mistakes in a Divorce
Written by Women Who Money Cofounders Vicki Cook and Amy Blacklock.
Amy and Vicki are the coauthors of Estate Planning 101, From Avoiding Probate and Assessing Assets to Establishing Directives and Understanding Taxes, Your Essential Primer to Estate Planning, from Adams Media.