To the outside world, they were the perfect family: living in an affluent neighborhood, annual vacations, nice car, both with good jobs... but behind closed doors it was a very different matter. Every week without question, Laura was expected to hand over her paycheck to her husband Tony. She knew the consequences if she didn't. Keeping so much as a penny of the money for herself could result in hours of accusations and rage-filled threats from Tony. Once, when she asked for money to go out for drinks with her coworkers, he pinned her to the wall and demanded to know who she was having an affair with... wanting to buy new clothes was equally suspicious... and if she ever dared to open a bank account in her name, he promised to kick her out of the house... and stop her from seeing the kids.
Laura lived in fear of Tony, but she made so much less money than her husband that if he ever did make good on his threats, she didn't know how she would ever survive. Week after week, Laura handed over her paycheck and made do with the small allowance Tony gave her to buy groceries, which he demanded to see the receipts for as soon as she walked through the door.
At work, one of her co-workers finally pulled her aside and asked her point blank:
"Are you being abused by your husband?"
Laura wasn't sure how to answer this question. Did Tony's over-the-top control and anger about money rise to the level of domestic abuse?
The short answer: Yes.
Financial or economic abuse, while possibly a lesser known form of domestic abuse, is actually one of the most powerful control tactics abusers use to keep their victims trapped in the relationship and isolated from friends and family. Financial abuse typically goes hand in hand with other forms of domestic violence, including physical assault and emotional or psychological abuse. Research indicates that virtually all (98%) abusive relationships contain some form of financial abuse.
Are you or someone you know at risk for financial abuse? Your spouse or partner may be exerting abusive financial control over you if he or she:
- Controls how all of your family's money is spent and lashes out with verbal and/or physical aggression when questioned,
- Denies you access to joint accounts or has accounts titled in their name only,
- Forbids you from working,
- Sabotages your work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing you at your workplace or physically batters you prior to important meetings or interviews,
- Withholds money or gives you "an allowance,"
- Demands to see receipts to monitor your spending,
- Runs up large amounts of debt on joint credit card accounts,
- Withholds funds for you and your children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine, and
- Opens credit card accounts in your name without your knowledge or permission.
As Laura experienced, financial abuse results in victims feeling insecure and fearful about their future. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, concerns about their ability to support themselves and their children are cited by survivors as one of the top reasons why they stayed with their abuser for as long as they did.
If you or someone you love is a victim of financial abuse, you need to know that the courts are on the victim's side. If you decide to leave and go to a shelter, your next step can be going to your local family court to ask for temporary alimony and temporary child support. You do not need to file for divorce to get this money. Explain your situation to the judge, including why you have left your spouse and your limited access to money. Alimony can help you maintain your same standard of living, or pay for other costs you may need to achieve financial independence, such as paying to attend school or for job training. If needed, you can also request for the courts to grant you a temporary restraining order against your spouse or partner to prevent your abuser from contacting you anywhere, including at work. You can also request the judge order your abuser to pay your legal fees, including the cost of an attorney to represent you.
Not married to your abuser? You may still be able to access money that is in your name. Say for example, you and your partner have a joint account where you deposit your paycheck, but your partner has withheld any access to this account from you (not allowing you a checkbook or bank card, for example). In this case, a judge can help you gain access to what is rightfully yours.
If you believe you are a victim of financial abuse, or any form of domestic abuse, you can start moving forward by:
- Make your exit plan. Organize important financial and personal documents such as bank statements, birth and marriage certificates, etc. Store these with friends or family or in another secret, safe location outside of your home. These documents can be helpful when filling out court papers.
- Speak out. Have a frank conversation with a close friend or trusted relative and ask how they can help in any way, from a loan for food and clothing to a couch to sleep on.
- Create an emergency fund. If you have absolutely no money, get creative. One woman amassed her "get away" nest egg by redeeming coupons at the grocery store customer service desk after she had received her original receipt. The few dollars she saved eventually added up to her freedom. You can also go to the public library or a friend's house and look on the internet for online work that deposits to a Paypal account or can be sent to a safe person you trust.
Help is also available 24/7 by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. Your spouse or partner does not need to have hit you in order for you to receive assistance.
To learn more about financial abuse and other forms of domestic abuse, including cyber stalking, contact the NNDEV or your local domestic violence shelter. As we shine a much-needed light on all forms of domestic abuse during October's Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it's important to always remember that no matter what abusive patterns have happened in your relationship to get you to this point, you deserve better...because you are worth it!