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When Victims Can’t Afford to Leave Their Abusers

While domestic violence is a well-known issue to many, economic and financial abuse is less widely known. Financial (or economic) abuse is a form of abuse in which one partner controls the other partner’s access to economic resources. This diminishes the victim’s capacity to support themselves and forces them to depend on the perpetrator financially. Three out of four domestic violence victims have stayed with their abusers longer for economic reasons (CDC).

Nowadays, many young women idealize the role of being stay-at-home moms or partners and being financially dependent on their partners. A running joke on social media lately has been that “some women girlbossed too hard in the 1900s and now we have to work for a living instead of being financially supported by men” (@Girlboss929 on Tik Tok).  

TAKE ACTION

• Learn how to support financially abused women, and read these resources on recognizing the signs.

• Donate to WOMEN’S WAY, where the Gender Wealth Institute is working to close the gender wealth gap.

• Support Women Against Abuse or a local organization providing material support for people in abusive relationships.

Many don’t realize that there is a risk attached to exclusively putting your finances in the hands of one person. One article discusses “the risks of being a stay-at-home mom that no one talks about.” As the author explains: 

“In a heartbeat, [the mother] goes from having a relatively comfortable standard of living to being on the edge of poverty. Her partner is able to continue working and may or may not pay child support. The extent to which her education and workforce participation was disrupted makes it difficult to re-enter the workforce. Her choice of job is further constrained by childcare responsibilities” (Scary Mommy). 

People who don’t control their finances are more likely to be trapped in physically abusive relationships. The intersection of poverty and domestic violence can 1) exacerbate the impact of the abuse, 2) cause an exceptional loss of resources for the survivor, and 3) lessen positive outcomes for a survivor (SafeHouse Center). Further, being in a financially abusive situation raises the chances of a victim being in poverty once she has left her abuser since she has lost her financial support.

The impacts of financial abuse also play out differently for women of different races and ethnicities. Unfortunately, Black women make up a large percentage of domestic violence victims. Black women also have lower employment rates, higher instances of unfair treatment or discrimination at work, and lower median annual wages than Black men, white men, and white women (Statistics Canada). Dealing with these issues while attempting to leave an abusive relationship can lead many Black women to stay instead.

According to a report by the YWCA, “African American women are 3 times more likely than white women to experience death as a result of domestic violence – while they make up 8% of the general population, 22% of domestic violence-related homicides impact African American women.” (YWCA). Additionally, domestic violence is the number one cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 15-35. Therefore, domestic violence and financial abuse impact Black women at extremely high rates.

The report went on to say that, “amongst this demographic, the likelihood of domestic violence is largely tied to economic factors, and occurs most amongst: married couples that are low income, relationships in which the male partner is either underemployed or unemployed, or when a couple is living in a poor neighborhood.” Financial abuse is a life or death situation for many Black women

“Daisy” (not her real name) was one woman forced to quit her job by her abusive boyfriend. Daisy told The LAist that “once [I was] financially dependent on my abuser, escape seemed impossible.” Later, “when Daisy finally felt her life was in danger and fled with her two young daughters, she only had $10 in her pocket” (LAist). Many women like Daisy are forced to leave dangerous relationships with no money or savings, which plunges them into even more dangerous situations. 

Fortunately, there are organizations working to increase financial literacy for women and help more people identify and avoid financial abuse. WOMEN’S WAY, a Philadelphia-based organization, recently launched the Financial Coach Training Program to strengthen women’s financial health. They report:  

“​​Evidence has shown that one of the causes of the gender wealth gap is poor financial capability among women. Contributing factors include lack of access to financial education…and domestic violence. Research has also shown that financial coaching is the most effective model of addressing these factors and building long-term behavioral change” (WOMEN’S WAY). 

Stopping economic and financial abuse, raising awareness about its effects, and providing resources to people experiencing it now are crucial, life-changing solutions. 

If you or anyone you know is affected by intimate partner violence, you can call 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788. You can go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for additional information.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

• 75% of domestic violence victims stayed with their abusers longer for economic reasons.

• Black women and women of color are more vulnerable to economic and financial abuse.

• Access to financial literacy resources can help people recognize the signs of financial abuse.

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