What is Financial Abuse?

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When we think about domestic violence, the first thing that comes to mind is often physical abuse. Cuts and bruises and broken bones may be the most obvious kind of domestic violence, but the most common kind of domestic violence is financial abuse, which is present in over 95% of domestic violence cases. 

Domestic violence centers around behavior that an abuser uses to gain or maintain power and control. Not surprisingly, using financials is often the “best” way for him to do this. He prevents his partner from utilizing or accessing financial resources, which will force her to become financially dependent on him. Financial abuse is used in conjunction with other kinds of abuse, but, because financial abuse is not as obvious as other forms of domestic violence, it can be difficult to spot.

  • The abuser may interfere with the victim’s ability to get or keep a job. One of the easiest ways for an abuser to control his partner is to ensure that she is not earning her own money. This means that he may make it very difficult or even impossible for her to work.
    • He may sabotage job interviews – forcing her to be late or miss an employment opportunity all together. 
    • He may make it very difficult for her to get to work – hiding her keys, restricting her access to transportation, or altogether preventing her from leaving the home.
    • He may show up at her work place and cause a scene. She may be reprimanded or even fired for this, or, she may quit on her own, due to the shame and embarrassment she feels.
    • He may insist that she quit her job or reduce the hours that she works. He may point to an “issue” at home that requires she do this – the children aren’t being properly cared for or the home isn’t being maintained to his liking.
    • The abuser may prevent the victim from accessing funds. The abuser may limit his partner’s ability to use credit cards and cash, or limit her access to funds through ATMs or the bank. He may also demand that his partner turn over any funds that she earned herself – or even prevent her from seeing her hard earned money at all, by requiring that she deposit checks into his account or sign them over to him.
  • The abuser may prevent the victim from holding any assets. The abuser may demand that all joint assets – like a deed, mortgage, or title – be in his name only. Even if the victim does have assets that are hers alone, he may force her to give or sign them over to him. 
  • The abuser may use debt as a form of control. The abuser may force the victim to use her credit in a way that is detrimental to her. It is not uncommon for an abuser to force a victim to open credit cards or apply for loans for things that are for both of them, or even solely for him. He may also open accounts in the victim’s name, without her knowledge or consent. This can be especially damaging, as the abuser can destroy the victim’s credit, making her further dependent on him. 

Even when a victim is ready to leave her abusive partner, she is often unable to do so because of financial limitations. Especially when children are involved, staying in an abusive situation may seem like the better of two awful options. Because she has had limited access to money or assets, the victim does not have the financial resources to provide for herself and her children on her own. At least in her current situation, she knows that her children will have beds to sleep in and food to eat.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, we urge you to seek help. You are not alone. There are many resources available to help those in need, including safety planning, transitional housing, and legal assistance. 

Note: when referring to perpetrators, we use he/him pronouns, and when referring to victims and survivors, we use she/her pronouns. This is solely for consistency and ease of reading. We recognize that both men and women can perpetrate or be victims of domestic violence, but the sad truth is that the majority of perpetrators are male, and the majority of victims are female.