For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we want to shed light on financial abuse: what it is, its impacts, and what it can look like.
Studies have shown that in 99% of all domestic abuse cases, people report a level of financial abuse as well. In advocate and policy spaces, financial abuse is known as “hidden abuse” because it does not show up in ways we expect abuse to look like. That is precisely why it’s so dangerous and why we need to know what exactly this is.
⚠️Trigger warning: This blog post features topics around domestic violence.
What Does “Financial Abuse” Mean?
Within the context of any relationship, financial abuse at its most basic sense is when one person is somehow forced to be financially dependent on another. Perhaps the abuser controls this person’s financial resources. Perhaps the abuser uses their financial advantages as leverage in multiple scenarios. The different forms financial abuse can take will vary situation by situation, relationship by relationship.
Financial abuse is often considered a “hidden abuse” because it can show up in people’s lives in very subtle manners. But the common thread across all different forms of abuse is an abuse of power, an exertion of control, and manipulation.
The Impacts of Financial Abuse
In Episode 108 with Jennifer Toledo, we heard about some of the different ways financial abuse can impact people.
At one level, like any form of abuse, financial abuse can leave people with pain, shame, and regret over having stayed in that relationship. At another level, the impacts can be very tangible, further fueling feelings of shame, for example.
Depending on what the financial abuse looks like, direct impacts can look like leaving people without basic necessities, removing the ability to be any level of financially independent, or negatively impacting their financial institutional standing (i.e. low credit scores, inconsistent employment histories, or even legal issues.
Because part of the intention behind abuse is to isolate people, it can be even harder for someone who is being financially abused to find someone for support. This further adds to the pattern of financial abuse by making it harder to leave the relationship, because of how dependent someone has become on the abuser out of necessity.
Signs of Financial Abuse
So what are some of the signs?
Direct Control Over Financial Resources
Sometimes the abuse can show up in very clear, direct ways.
- Taking your money without your consent
- Using your credit cards without consent
- Demanding control over your paycheck
- Forcing a budget onto you
- Micro-managing your income, expenses, and spending
- Demanding to know how you spend every cent of your money
- Forcing joint accounts onto you
- Opening your bank statements without your consent
- Requiring “bail outs” for every financial problem they might be in
Sabotaging Access To Financial Resources
In some cases, time reveals different forms of financial abuse.
- Running up your credit card balances and not paying for them
- Placing all bills under your name
- Preventing you from opening bank accounts
- Limiting ability to actually go to your job
- Pressuring you to quit your job
- Judging your job and career choices
Using Financial Advantages As Leverage
Another example situation involves the abuser using a lot of threats.
- Threatening to leave knowing you can’t afford to live on their own
- Forcing a budget you cannot realistically afford
- Threatening to “cut you off”
When you combine any number of these different signs, it should become clear why it can be hard to leave a financially abusive relationship. The power the abusers hold in these spaces is that they are often the key into a different life, since they hold power over financial resouces.
We must remember that 99% of all domestic abuse cases report a level of financial abuse. The more we know, the better we can support each other.
If you or someone you know is being abused, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit NNEDV.org💜