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What is financial abuse?

Although when you think of domestic violence you’re probably thinking of physical abuse, there’s another more subtle but equally harmful type of abuse that domestic violence advocates frequently see: financial abuse. This is a tactic that domestic abuse victim advocates see abusers using to exert control of their victims. Albeit silent, it’s prevalent because it’s a part of 99% of domestic violence cases.

What is financial abuse?

Domestic violence advocates see many forms of financial abuse. In your domestic violence advocacy training you’re probably taught about some of the more common ones which include:

  • Restricting access to bank accounts, education, and employment

  • Forcing victims to work against their will (e.g., my perpetrator forced me to do adult cam and phone work)

  • Running up large amounts of debt

  • Ruining the victim’s credit score

This is a deliberate strategy in which victims are kept financially dependent on their perpetrator and thus they’re trapped in these abusive relationships. Unfortunately, you’ll also learn in your domestic violence advocacy training that this abuse is long-lasting - extending well past when the relationship ends. In fact, I still have issues with money today.

Why is financial abuse so damaging?

The way in which financial abuse intersects with other types of domestic violence (e.g., in my case emotional abuse) complicates the issue even more. This is because victims are faced with a variety of challenges that makes it difficult for them to ask a domestic abuse victim advocate for help. For instance, I was isolated from support networks, panicked about providing for my son, and was coerced into believing that there was no way out.

Your domestic violence advocacy training will teach you that one of the most challenging things about financial abuse is that it perpetuates the cycle of abuse. This is because without the financial means to escape from abuse, victims are oftentimes forced to remain in these situations. They’re faced with the fear of homelessness, hunger or losing custody of their children if they leave. Unfortunately, domestic abuse victim advocates have seen perpetrators exploit this fear so that they can maintain dominance.

Financial abuse has profound, multifaceted consequences. Many victims are confronted by stress, anxiety and depression as they grapple with the loss of financial independence. In your domestic violence advocacy training you’ll learn how this abuse has far-reaching implications in regards to future financial stability, securing safe housing, finding employment and pursuing educational opportunities. As a domestic abuse victim advocate and someone who’s survived financial abuse I can tell you that I’ve always been hyper focused on money since leaving this abuse behind. Even today while conducting domestic violence advocacy training for others I still struggle with this myself.

How can domestic violence advocates help those who’ve been financially abused?

Domestic abuse victim advocate have found numerous ways to properly address financial abuse, including:

  • Making people more aware of this type of abuse. This type of domestic violence advocacy training enables victims to recognize signs and seek help.

  • Training law enforcement officers, lawyers, and social workers, to effectively identify and respond to financial abuse.

  • Helping financial institutions be more active in helping victims by having domestic violence advocates available to provide them with resources and support.

  • Advocating for legal reforms that hold abusers accountable. Domestic violence advocates need to call for laws that recognize financial abuse as a distinct offense, with appropriate penalties for perpetrators. Such legal protections should include safeguarding victims’ financial assets so that they have access to financial resources when needed.

What now?

As a domestic violence advocate I implore you to invest in resources such as Healing Family Trauma Pittsburgh that work to help not only with advocacy but also on the front lines. There’s a lot of information available to help you become a domestic abuse victim advocate too. It’s only by shining a light on the hidden epidemic of financial abuse and taking action to combat it that we can break its chains and empower victims to reclaim their lives. Won’t you consider buying a wreath or making a monetary donation to help with this work today?

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