Financial abuse is real — here's what you need to know
When we think of domestic abuse, we normally think of physical violence or emotional and mental abuse. The more tangible, the more visual it is, the easier it is to understand and, ultimately, support the victims of. But more and more, society is finally starting to digest the hard truth that abuse is often much more complex than the way we see it portrayed in movies or on TV — and sometimes, it’s almost invisible. That’s why understanding how financial abuse works is so important. One of the most common and destructive forms of domestic abuse doesn’t leave a trace — at least not one you can see — but it can destroy women’s lives for years to come.
According to the Purple Purse foundation, which aids victims of financial abuse, one in four women will become a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime — and a staggering 99 percent of those cases will involve some kind of financial abuse. The abuse itself can take many forms and often be difficult to recognize — but the more we talk about this kind of abuse, the easier it will be to recognize and support the people who are struggling. Here’s what you need to know.
Financial abuse can spring up in unlikely places
Financial abuse is so hard to spot because it can feel totally invisible. While many assume that financial abuse happens in cases of poverty, that’s not the case at all — financial abuse is about control and dominance, it’s about keeping someone from having financial autonomy and independence. You can be married to a millionaire and still be suffering from financial abuse, especially if you don’t have any access to their money and are kept from having your own. Just because a family is well-off, don’t assume financial abuse isn’t at play.
It often starts slowly
Like all forms of domestic abuse, financial abuse is pernicious — it often comes in slowly and gets gradually more and more toxic until its victims are in deeper than they realize. It can start with your partner saying it will be easier if they manage all of the bills — or that they’re "good with money," so that they should make the big financial decisions. Many men play off of the outdated (and untrue) idea that men are better with money than women — despite the fact that women have been shown to be better with money than men — to convince their partner to give up a tiny bit of control. Then, slowly but surely, they make sure that all of their finances are tangled up in each other — and that they’re the only one with access to it.
It manifests in many different ways
Financial abuse can be hard to pin down because it comes about in so many different ways. It can be not allowing your partner to have a job or access to bank accounts. Maybe your partner only lets you live on an allowance or gives you money on a reward system and withholds it for “bad” behavior. Maybe you do have a bank account, but they track your spending and question all of the charges you make. They may also force you to take out loans or credit cards that you can't afford to pay, then take the money for themselves and leave you with ruined credit. All of these forms of abuse ultimately keep you dependent on your abuser — and many women are stuck in abusive relationships because they don't have the money to leave and start a new life. If you don't feel like you could support yourself without your partner, if your partner won't let you support yourself, or if you can’t leave an abusive relationship because you lack the resources, these are all clear signs of financial abuse.
It’s also important to note that financial abuse may or may not be combined with other forms of abuse. Some women fear coming forward unless there is physical violence — and feel that physical abuse is the only kind that “counts”. This could not be further from the truth — so much damage can be done without any physical contact at all and all forms of abuse are completely unacceptable.
You can get help
Although it’s taken us a long time to wake up to the dangers of financial abuse, there is finally starting to be a shift and there are more resources available to victims. If you are a victim of financial abuse then talking to friends or family can be a great place to start — but often in abuse cases, victims are isolated from those closest to them, so that may not feel like an option. Reaching out to any domestic abuse resource is an important first step. You can find a local domestic abuse organization in your area or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you're unable to visit in person. Financial abuse is now a recognized and understood part of domestic abuse more generally, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of the resources available.
Financial abuse is so destructive and can be completely debilitating — but understanding how it can come about and what it looks like is an important first step toward helping women who are in trouble. And if you are a victim of financial abuse or even just think you might be, there are people out there to help you — so always, always reach out.