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When You Can't Afford to Leave An Abusive Partner

Without financial independence, many survivors feel trapped

  • April 29, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
When You Can't Afford to Leave An Abusive Partner

It seems simple enough—if you’re with an abusive partner, just leave. Walk out. Start fresh. Save yourself and your children. One reason survivors stay: They may not be able to feed and care for their children, or themselves, if they leave. Take a look at these estimated national averages:

Full-time daycare for an infant: $972 a month
One-bedroom apartment: $769 a month
One [thrifty] month of groceries for a family of four: $584
Monthly total: $2,325
(Source, Source and Source)

For many survivors, these are just a few of the economic barriers that prevent them from leaving their abusive partners. Without the financial independence necessary to secure a safe residence, buy food and find childcare so he or she can go to work, a survivor often feels trapped. “I see it every day,” says Lucille Powell, domestic violence counselor with the Community Action Program of Lancaster, Penn. “It’s not just the cash. If you have a partner who refuses to pay child support or drags that out, it can become a vicious cycle of leaving and returning.

“I’m asked all the time, ‘Why do they stay?’” Powell says. It takes, on average, leaving seven times before a survivor separates permanently from an abusive partner. For many survivors, it comes down to deciding between keeping oneself safe and keeping one’s children fed and clothed.

Powell, who’s been a domestic violence advocate since 1978, says she thinks the problem starts with most states still not offering a living wage. Right now, seven states—California, D.C., Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—offer a minimum wage over $9. While some lawmakers are currently pushing for a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour (and workers across the country are asking for $15), many states are still paying at or around $7.25 an hour, a federal minimum that hasn’t been raised since 2009. Even working 40 hours a week, that wage equates to just $1,160 a month before taxes.

Not to mention, says Powell, that some minimum wage jobs offer hours and workdays that don't necessarily work harmoniously with common childcare hours of operation or periods when children may be in or out of school. Powell adds that the lack of awareness of these key issues is putting lives at risk, with survivors often returning to abusive partners in order to provide for their children. “It’s having a big impact on children’s development.”

Despite these realities, experts also counsel that understanding potential financial independence issues early-on can help a person plan differently and increase the odds of mitigating their impact. One such educational effort of note: Click to Empower, a free financial training program specially tailored for survivors of domestic violence. It offers a financial empowerment curriculum, a career empowerment curriculum and a series of short videos on topics such as surviving financial abuse, learning financial basics, budgeting your money and more. Learn more about it here.