United States: Financial Abuse: The Invisible Wounds Of Domestic Violence

When most people hear the horrific phrase "domestic violence", they think only of the physical abuse or threats of physical abuse inflicted upon another; however, financial or economic abuse exists in approximately 98% of all domestic violence situations, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Financial or economic abuse is defined as "making or attempting to make a person financially dependent". In order to accomplish this form of dependency, an abuser may resort to the following tactics:

  • Maintaining sole title and control over bank accounts, real property or other assets;
  • Withholding or restricting access to money;
  • Making all major financial decisions without consulting the victim;
  • Refusing to put the victim's name on joint assets or removing the victim's name from previously joint assets so that the victim does not have any knowledge of the family's resources, or own any assets/property;
  • Using the victim's personal identity information (such as Social Security number) to open credit card accounts or obtain loans, which are then never paid (destroying the victim's credit);
  • Forcing the victim to co-sign credit card accounts or loans;
  • Forcing the victim to sign a power-of-attorney so that the abuser can sign legal or financial documents on the victim's behalf, without their knowledge;
  • Forcing the victim to cash-in assets in his/her name only, and turn them over to the abuser;
  • Placing the victim on an "allowance";
  • Forcing the victim to account for all money spent, including providing proof such as receipts;
  • Forcing the victim to beg for money to meet basic needs, such as food, clothing or shelter, yet spending money freely on him/herself;
  • If the victim is employed, forcing him/her to turn over all earned income/paychecks to the abuser;
  • Harassing the victim at work or threatening the victim's employer with the intention to get/have the victim fired (and therefore cannot work and earn money);
  • Isolating the victim from the family, friends and support system and/or turning others against the victim;
  • Preventing the victim from attending school or job-training programs;
  • Preventing the victim from obtaining employment, thereby forcing the victim to be totally dependent; and/or
  • Threatening the victim that if they leave they will never see the children again and will never win a custody dispute if they go to Court.

Financial abuse typically starts out slowly, and may not even be recognizable at first. Simple statements such as "let me handle the finances, you have enough to worry about" or "since I'm better at saving, let me maintain our bank accounts", evolve into situations where the abuser has gained a total financial stronghold over the victim.

The number one reason victims of financial abuse remain or return to abusive relationships is because they do not have the financial resources to escape. Thus, victims of financial abuse are caught in an inevitable Catch 22: either they stay in the abusive relationship (physical, emotional and/or financial abuse) or they leave and risk becoming impoverished and/or homeless because they do not have the financial wherewithal to even obtain a bus ticket. Worse, if the abuser has incurred debt under the victim's name and/or destroyed their credit, the victim will not even be able to obtain housing, a credit card, a cell phone or even certain jobs. It's no wonder victims choose to stay in unhealthy situations.

Moreover, abusers often manipulate the victim into believing that they cannot leave because they will not survive without them; however, the situation becomes even more contentious when children are involved. Abusers often threaten victims that if they leave, they will "never see their children again", they will call child protective services and/or utilize the court system to gain custody. Unfortunately, victims have no reason to believe otherwise. Contacting a knowledgeable family law attorney can help alleviate some of the fiction perpetrated by abusers, which usually has no basis in law, and a skilled practitioner can help you take the first steps into protecting yourself and your children, and rebuilding your life.

Victims of domestic violence should be aware of their legal and other options. Below is a list of some New Jersey based resources:

If you or someone you know is a victim of financial domestic violence, below is an excerpt from the Forbe's article 'I'll Take Care of the Bills': The Slippery Slope Into Financial Abuse (see citation below) that provides a strategy for victims of financial abuse to start breaking the cycle:

  1. Learn more about it to see if your situation matches the description. Find a checklist online, such as this one, this one, this one or this one.
  2. If you believe you are a victim, start organizing important financial and personal documents such as bank statements, birth and marriage certificates, etc., and store them with friends or family or in another secret, safe location outside of your home.
  3. Earn extra money however you can, and keep it with a trusted person or in a secret location, so you can rely on this when you leave.
  4. Get a free copy of your credit report at Annual Credit Report. Report or dispute any fraudulent charges.
  5. Create a budget so you know how much your housing, food, transportation and other expenses will cost when you leave.
  6. Change your PIN codes and passwords so your abuser can't access your financial information or track your activity.
  7. Check out resources like URI NYC, The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-Safe (7233)) and Safe Horizon.

Resources used for this article:

  1. Shin, Laura. "'I'll Take Care of the Bills': The Slippery Slope Into Financial Abuse." Forbes. 19 March 2015. Web 05 Feb. 2016.
  2. Triffin, Molly. "The Warning Signs of Financial Abuse." Daily Worth. 20 July 2015. Web 05 Feb 2016.
  3. Purple Purse; http://purplepurse.com/

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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