Understanding the financial impact of domestic violence
In knowing how financial abuse can affect survivors, we can collectively advocate for solutions to protect more survivors from harm.
In April, we celebrated Financial Literacy and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But, the work to spread awareness on the connection between these two issues, more so between financial literacy and domestic violence, is long from over. While the two may seem unrelated, they are more connected than you might think.
Let us take the example of Jamie, a single mother of four young children and a survivor of domestic violence. While married, Jamie’s husband and abuser opened up several accounts under her name, without her consent. He then failed to pay the bills, leaving Jamie with a significant amount of debt under her name and a less-than-ideal credit score.
Short on funds, Jamie went to the bank, only to discover that her husband had depleted the entire balance of their joint account, leaving her penniless. When Jamie finally decided to leave, her husband called her workplace several times an hour to find her; to the point that her employer eventually let her go, citing her situation as a potential threat to the safety of her co-workers and the work environment.
You see, even though Jamie had physically left her abuser, her financial journey to breaking free from the abuse was far from over. Jamie had been financially abused. Her abuser had damaged her credit, stolen her money and caused her to lose her job and main source of income. Sadly, Jamie’s example is all too common.
Each year, the U.S. economy loses about 8 million paid workdays from domestic violence. Furthermore, about 60 percent of survivors lose their jobs due to their abuse. Financial abuse can take many forms, including an abuser restricting, controlling, limiting, or gaining access to a survivor’s financial resources. Some studies have shown that financial abuse occurs in as many as 99 percent of domestic violence cases. Just as disturbing is the fact that seven out of eight survivors who do leave their abusers return, largely due to financial pressures. Not to mention, almost half of women in abusive relationships report a sexual assault during their relationships.
So, what we can do to stem the cycle of domestic violence?
We can start by understanding its financial impact. Financial abuse victimizes survivors long after the abuse occurs. But, we can educate ourselves on the signs and scope of financial abuse so as to prevent it from continuing. Two useful resources are WomensLaw.org, a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Both provide definitions and suggestions of places to seek help from, while the Hotline further enables individuals with a 24/7/365 phone or chat option.
In parallel, we can advocate for policies by employers and financial institutions to protect survivors of domestic violence against on-the-job harassment, coerced debt and identity theft. In a 2017 survey, 42 percent of American employers reported not offering paid leave to domestic violence survivors, while another 19 percent of employers were “unsure” as to whether they offered any such policy. More can be done.
Lastly, we can volunteer with organizations, like the Shine Foundation, that help domestic violence survivors recover from their financial trauma. Shine is a NYC-based nonprofit that teaches money management skills to survivors of domestic violence during their time in shelter. Our clients are parents, co-workers, siblings, friends and neighbors. These are individuals who have become homeless from leaving their abusers, and are now struggling to keep up with the financial demands of caring for their children, finding affordable housing and looking for employment, among other priorities.
Understanding the financial impacts, alone, may not solve for domestic violence. But, it’s a strong start. In knowing how financial abuse could affect survivors, we can collectively advocate for solutions to protect more survivors from harm. Whatever we do, the goal is clear: to prevent more examples like Jamie. Together, we can help the Jamie’s of the world have a chance at leaving the cycle of abuse, for good.
Editor’s note: Along with organizations like the Shine Foundation, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse offers resources, including free online financial empowerment curriculum. You also can learn more about spotting the signs of financial abuse at www.PurplePurse.com/financialabuse.
If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.