If you are in a violent and abusive relationship, please reach out and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (U.S.) or 1-800-363-9010 (Canada).
Economic abuse or financial abuse occurs when one person attempts to control the life of another individual through manipulation of finances, thus preventing economic independence. Economic abuse is extremely common where other types of abuse are present.
What Does Economic Abuse Look Like?
Economic abuse can take many forms and is not always easy to spot from the outside. Some common ways of abusing someone economically can include:
- Preventing gainful employment
- Jeopardizing employment through harassment on the job, or interfering with childcare or transportation
- Taking money, credit cards, or property without consent
- Denying access to or information about one’s finances
- Forcing someone to provide financially for someone else, including the abuser refusing to work
- Cashing checks and spending the money while neglecting to pay bills
- Accruing debt for which both parties are responsible without notifying the other individual
- Refusing to allow a person to have accounts in their name (thus withholding the opportunity to build credit)
The consequences of economic abuse can be devastating. In many cases, victims of domestic violence report that they stay with their abuser because they simply cannot provide for themselves financially. If the abuser’s tactics affect the victim’s credit, the effects of the abuse can long outlive the length of the relationship. It can be difficult or impossible for the victim to secure credit or qualify for a checking account. Bad credit can mean increased deposits on utilities or rent. A series of failed job opportunities or firings can negatively affect the chances of future gainful employment. Bankruptcy or garnishments are also possibilities.
The psychological effects of economic abuse can involve a decrease in self-esteem and difficulties with identity, not to mention powerlessness over one's life and ability to operate independently.
Often, there is a physical component to economic abuse, as well. Victims may be physically abused in order to ensure compliance, or else physically punished for not complying with the abuser’s demands.
Warning signs that you or someone you know may be dealing with economic abuse:
- Your partner always makes you pay for bills, outings
- Your partner gives you an allowance which is meant to cover all of your expenditures
- Your partner forces you to account for all of your money
- Your partner prevents you from owning or using a credit card
- Your partner makes you apply for loans or credit cards in your name for his/her use
- You partner has sole access to passwords for financial information (credit cards, banks, loans, etc.)
Who is Impacted?
Economic abuse can happen to anyone; however, elderly and disabled persons are particularly vulnerable, as they may have physical or mental limitations that make them easier targets for abuse. Those with language barriers and/or immigrant (usually undocumented) status are also common targets.
How to Seek Help:
People who are in an economic abuse situation are urged to carefully seek help for themselves. Most domestic violence hotlines and shelters are well-educated on the topic of economic abuse and can provide information, referrals and resources to help a victim get back on his/her feet financially.
UNCFSP suggests that victims consider leaving copies of his/her financial records with a trusted friend. It may also be useful for the victim to obtain a free credit report by contacting Equifax (1-800-685-1111), Experian (1-888-397-3742), or TransUnion (1-800-888-4213) credit bureaus.
It is important to protect your privacy as you prepare to get help with leaving your abuser. Please see the following tips:
- You are safest on a computer outside your home.
- Be cautious on email and IM if you are seeking help for domestic violence that way. Your abuser may be able to access your account.
- Change usernames and passwords for all accounts. Even if you believe that your abuser doesn’t have access to them, there are keylogging programs that can easily determine that information.
- Use corded phones rather than cordless telephones. Corded phones are harder to tap.
- Use a prepaid phone card or call collect so that the charges don’t appear on your phone bill.
- Check your cell phone settings as there are many technologies that your abuser can use to listen in on your calls or track your location, even if you do not answer the phone.
- Get your own cell phone that your abuser doesn’t know about.
Safety After You’ve Left:
- Get an unlisted phone number
- Use a PO Box rather than home address
- Apply for your state’s address confidentiality program (it will confidentially forward all mail to your home)
- Cancel all old bank accounts and credit cards. When you open new accounts, use a new bank.
- You may want to get a restraining order, BUT DO NOT FEEL FALSELY COMFORTED BY ONE. Not all states enforce restraining orders. Contact your state’s Domestic Violence Coalition.
- Change your routine if you’re living in the same area.
For more information, please see the following websites:
The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness is dedicated to victims of domestic violence. The site provides information on all different forms of domestic violence and lists resources for many different populations, including teens, immigrants, LGBT, and non-US citizens.
Click to Empower offers information on detecting, preventing and recovering from abuse.
BSAFE is a Montana-based credit union that offers a matched savings account plan to help victims of domestic violence.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence has a wealth of information and resources, including a state/territory directory for agencies that offer help for those affected by domestic and/or economic abuse.
Alianza, The National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence offers assistance and information to Latinos affected by domestic abuse.