Two weeks after they meet, he insists on moving into her apartment and pooling their funds in a joint bank account. Then he takes away her ATM card.
He forbids her from working. Or he moves her to a rural area where she can’t find a job.
He makes her late, trashes her work clothes, or interferes with her transportation or childcare, so she loses her job.
He takes her paycheck and she has to beg him for money to fund basic needs. He drinks, drugs or gambles away their joint funds and deliberately keeps her in a panic about finances.
Sensing she’s getting ready to break away, he over-spends on their joint accounts or stops paying their bills; when she tries to move out, she discovers her credit has been ruined.
He steals from her. He destroys her belongings. He interferes with her schooling or promotions. He persuades her to sign checks (or forges her name) or presses her to sign a prenuptial agreement that takes away her basic financial rights.
There are way too many ways for abusers to block their partners' economic independence. And when financially trapped, it is much harder to break free from an abuser’s domination. Financial abuse is one weapon of a multi-pronged strategy of asserting power over a partner called: Coercive Control.
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“No survivor should have to choose between being homeless or living with a partner who beats her,” said Jill Davies, an attorney with the Greater Hartford Legal Aid’s Building Comprehensive Solutions to Domestic Violence Initiative.
A recent conference on Economic Justice for Survivors: Exploring Strategies that Work, sponsored by the Massachusetts Rural Domestic and Sexual Violence Project, provided innovative solutions and resources to resolve some of the economic dilemmas that hobble survivors, with a focus on women in rural areas. Here’s a taste of what they offered, along with relevant links.
- Money School: The Elizabeth Freeman Center sponsors a path-breaking five-session series of workshops that help survivors of domestic and sexual violence take control of their financial situation, repair their damaged credit, and use money to achieve independence and stability in all aspects of their lives. The sessions include a self-assessment, information on debt and lenders, credit, expense tracking, income maximization, resume and interview skills, and individualized financial coaching. The support continues after the course ends, with housing, debt, and legal advocacy; and assistance with employment or continued education. One money school graduate reported, “Money school gave me hope, hope, hope in changing my situation.” Another concluded that the Money School taught her how to make a detailed monthly budget, set goals, execute an action plan, foresee bumps in the road, and save money.
- Survivor’s Recovery Fund of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts: This fund is dedicated to promoting the recovery of survivors of partner abuse and sexual assault, by providing grants to help survivors get back on their feet. The paperwork is minimal and although the amount of each grant is quite small—around $500—this can make a huge difference. A survivor applies to use her fund for a specific purpose—to buy clothes for a job interview, pay for childcare, take an English class, or put a down payment on her car, for instance. This small amount can make the difference between someone surviving in freedom or returning to her trap.
- Economic Independence: Rural women are typically clustered in traditionally female jobs and earn far less than their rural male counterparts or their female urban counterparts (Albrecht, 2012). Connecting survivors to job training programs in non-traditional careers such as in the construction trades or green economy can simultaneously increase their self-esteem and job satisfaction, as well as their economic security. Many women gain some measure of economic independence through becoming entrepreneurs. This may not require a large cash investment if they can sell arts, crafts, and other products on websites such as etsy.com, foodies.com, artfire.com, etc. (Economic Security for Survivors Project, 2013)
- Educational Advancement: Many survivors have had their education interrupted due to an unplanned pregnancy or the violence itself—after a campus sexual assault, or when a controlling and jealous dating partner or spouse makes it impossible for them to attend classes. Innovative programs allow survivors to pursue their education in nontraditional ways. Many community colleges offer evening, weekend and online classes—some also offer childcare. And adult degree completion programs—such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst University Without Walls program, where I teach, allow students to complete their bachelor’s degrees online and offer opportunities to earn credit for writing about certain experiences. For both individuals and communities, education leads to swifter recovery from economic setbacks (USDA, 2014).
Editor's Notes: Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD, Senior Lecturer, University of Massachusetts and Author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.
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