When discussing domestic violence, one may wonder what differentiates certain behaviors and patterns as abusive. At the core, an abusive person seeks power and control over their partner. This reach for power and control can be more overtly seen through enacting physical or sexual violence, threats, verbal abuse, and other such actions. One subcategory of abuse that is insidious but not as widely discussed despite its massive prevalence is financial or economic abuse; one domestic violence survivors study found that 99% of the respondents experienced financial abuse.
What is financial abuse?
Financial abuse is utilizing power and control over the finances or using finances and money to control and manipulate a partner. It can be subtle and hard to detect or overt and hard to ignore. It is often intertwined with other forms of violence and abuse in a relationship. Some examples of financial abuse include:
- Insisting on solely controlling finances and making all financial decisions without any input from their partner;
- Withholding money or only providing an “allowance” of money to be spent;
- Stealing money directly, such as taking bank cards or financial benefits (e.g., if a partner took one partner’s COVID-19 pandemic stimulus check for themselves);
- Preventing access to shared bank accounts;
- Prohibiting or limiting work and education opportunities;
- Sabotaging employment (e.g., showing up to where their partner works and prohibiting them from completing work, causing them to lose their job);
- Withholding financial support to partners or children for housing, food, or medical needs;
- Fraudulently filing tax returns with their partner’s information (e.g., fraudulently claiming dependent children);
- Amassing large debts on shared accounts and refusing to pay;
- Stealing a partner’s identity to open up lines of credit or take out loans;
- Threatening to cut off financial resources or support to control behaviors or prevent a partner from leaving a relationship;
- Isolating a partner from their friends, family, or other people who may offer financial aid;
- Refusing to work or contribute to family income.
Financial abuse is especially insidious and challenging in the cycle of abuse and violence, as it may prohibit the survivor from having opportunities to leave a relationship due to a lack of financial means to provide safe and consistent housing or concerns about how to provide for themselves or any children once out of a relationship. Additionally concerning are the long-lasting effects of financial abuse, including poor credit scores or sporadic employment history, which can impact a survivor for years after an abusive relationship ends.
How to help a loved one who is in a financially abusive relationship
It can be devastating to learn that those close to us may be experiencing abuse in any capacity. Your support, however, can be crucial and of invaluable help. A few ways you may help your loved one are to:
- Educate yourself: Learn about the different kinds of relationship abuse and the signs to look for.
- Listen nonjudgmentally: Identify yourself as a safe person where your loved one may share details of their experience and seek support as they need. Try not to apply blame or pressure them to make certain decisions; approach the situation with the intention of understanding and empathic support.
- Respect their choices: Understand that abusive relationships are more complex than “just leaving.” Respect their decisions and timelines, and empower them to make the best choices for them. Hold space for any pain, anger, or frustration you may experience elsewhere, such as with a therapist or trusted friend.
- Offer practical support. Provide what is within your power and your means as a means of support, such as offering to help them collect or store important financial documents, finding resources or shelters, going to the bank with them, or anything else that your loved one identifies as something that may be helpful for them.
Love is Respect, an offshoot of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, offers guides on how to support numerous loved ones in your life in abusive relationships, whether it is one of your partners, your roommate, your parent, or one of your students.
I think I am being financially abused.
If you are currently in an abusive relationship, first and foremost, please understand it is not your fault. Nothing you have done or anything about who you are warrants abuse or maltreatment by anyone, especially not your romantic partner. Here are some things that may be helpful for you to do or consider:
- Educate yourself and know your rights: Learn about the signs of abuse and the options available for you. For example, if you are an immigrant to the United States married to your abuser, you have rights through the Violence Against Women Act (which applies to all genders, despite its misleading name!) that do not tether you to an abusive relationship or risk deportation.
- Establish a support network: Confide only in those you trust to be safe and share your situation. These people can include family, friends, legal counsel, and/or a therapist trained in domestic violence.
- Contact support organizations: Many state- and national-level organizations may support survivors of domestic violence in multiple capacities; some will be linked a little later in this post.
- Secure critical financial documents: Locate important information such as identity records, bank information, legal documents, and other financial records, and find a safe place to keep them away from your partner, such as with a trusted friend or family member.
- Create a safety plan: Collaborate with your support network to outline steps to protect yourself and your family and eventually leave your relationship. This may include opening a different bank account (if you feel safe to do so), identifying places to stay, packing a “go” bag, and seeking legal counsel, among other things.
If you are in an abusive relationship and need support anywhere else in the United States, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 toll-free at 800-799-7233, or reach them through text by sending “START” to 88788. They may assist in finding local resources for you.
All material provided on this website is for informational purposes only. Direct consultation of a qualified provider should be sought for any specific questions or problems. Use of this website in no way constitutes professional service or advice.