June 6, 2019

Breaking free from domestic violence: One survivor’s story of regaining her financial freedom

When she found herself physically and financially powerless to escape her abuser, Cali turned to these resources to help her leave for good.

Most cases of domestic violence include financial abuse. It is one of the main reasons survivors can’t “just leave.” Resources such as The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Moving Ahead Curriculum empower survivors to regain their financial freedom. Photo by Getty Images

You can’t always see the evidence of domestic violence. For survivors of financial abuse, you won’t necessarily see bruises or broken bones, but they are trapped all the same. It takes courage, sacrifice, and support to break free.

With four children to raise, Cali was a young working mom and committed to taking care of her family’s needs. From the outside looking in, there were no clear signs of abuse. Cali didn’t realize that her husband was slowly isolating her and forcing her to become financially dependent on him, eventually moving the family to a remote community where it was difficult for Cali to get around.

“He had drilled it in me, that he needed to be the one to provide and I was making it difficult for him,” she told us in a phone interview. “Because he’s the man and he needs to do what he needs to do.”

It was hard to argue with him. Their fourth child needed special medical attention, so it made sense for her to quit her job. “Maybe he’s right,” she thought. But when the physical abuse started, she had nowhere to go.

‘Husbands are supposed to do this’

Abusers use physical, sexual, financial, and/or emotional abuse to gain and maintain power and control within an intimate relationship, says Kim Pentico, director of the economic justice program at National Network to End Domestic Violence. Domestic violence affects millions of men and women in the United State, regardless of class, race, or education.

Pentico describes some of the tactics used by perpetrators of financial abuse. They include: controlling how money is spent; withholding money or “giving an allowance”; withholding basic living resources, medication, or food; not allowing or forcing their partner to work or earn money; stealing their partner’s identify, money, or property; or ruining credit.

If you are in a domestic violence situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

For Cali, who witnessed domestic abuse herself as a child, she saw her husband’s tactics as normal. “I knew what [domestic violence] looked like from a child’s perspective. Being the adult in this situation, I didn’t know,” she said. For her, his abusive behavior and his complete control over her finances appeared normal. “Husbands are supposed to do this. They’re the protectors. They’re the providers.”

It took a friend and confidant to help her identify the abuse and begin to break free. “She was the one who told me, ‘He’s isolating you,’” said Cali. “I had to accept the reality of my situation and break free of the mental captivity that he held me in. I realized that I couldn’t be in denial anymore.”

‘I’ll be back for you’

With help from the Domestic Violence Resource Center, Cali found a shelter that would take her, but she had to leave her kids behind. Her oldest was 10.

“I said listen, you kids don’t deserve any of this. You don’t deserve to see mommy and daddy fighting. If I’m not home when you wake up in the morning, just know that I’m safe. Know that I’m OK and that I’ll be back for you.”

Cali knew that leaving her children would be a sacrifice both she and they would have to endure. “I had to accept the reality of my situation and I also had to accept that if I didn’t take the safe steps, I could also be putting my children at risk of following the cycle of abuse,” she said.

After working with a social worker and a survivor advocate, she slowly began the process of breaking free for good.

Road to financial freedom

Using the The Allstate Foundation Moving Ahead Curriculum, which was developed by The Allstate Foundation in partnership with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Cali learned the tools for building financial freedom. She worked with a financial coach and learned how to re-build her credit.

Cali even referred her oldest daughter, now 18, to the financial education tools. “When she was 16 she got her first job. I always told her, ‘Put this money aside,’” she said. Her daughter has her own bank account, but no credit cards. Cali doesn’t think it’s a good idea just yet. “We’re taking baby steps.”

Cali is also empowering her community. With help from The Allstate Foundation, she is sharing what she learned from the Moving Ahead Curriculum with her neighbors. Next up, she wants to get it in her local high school, so every teen will know how to build financial independence.

“You owe it to yourself to be financially independent. You’re paying yourself to have this knowledge,” she said. “The curriculum will always be with you. Once you learn it, you never forget it.”

Learn the signs of financial abuse at AllstateFoundation.org.

Find a domestic violence shelter in your area at www.domesticshelters.org.

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.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.