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Breaking the chains of financial abuse: how to avoid being a victim and get on a path to empowerment.

BLACK ENTERPRISE WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE ALLSTATE FOUNDATION for connecting us with a victim of financial and domestic abuse, as we work to bring attention to this important issue. We would also like to thank the victim for being brave enough to share her story. Due to concerns for her safety, however, for the purposes of this article we will not reveal her identity, and we will refer to her as "Jane."

It started out like most mornings for working families. Jane got her four young children dressed and fed, then headed to the garage to get her car. What wasn't typical, however, was the fact that her husband was in the process of taking the car so that she couldn't go to work--a classic technique financial and physical abusers use to keep their victims financially dependent.

The American Institute on Domestic Violence finds that as many as 54% of victims of abuse miss work due to the actions of their abusers. Fifty-six percent have been late because of this issue, and 28% have had to leave early.

"When I saw what he was doing, I ran to the garage and shut the door so that he couldn't back the car out. He jumped out and opened it. I shut it. This went back and forth until he eventually threw an umbrella at my face," she says.

Jane didn't realize that her young children were watching. "My 8-year-old daughter was so horrified that she ran to the garage and punched a hole through the window in order to try and make us stop. He still wouldn't let me out. I called the police because my daughter needed medical attention. The police came and kept him calm long enough for me to get my kids and the car. Then they just left us alone. They didn't want to get involved."

Not only did the police fail to rescue Jane from her abusive husband, but she didn't feel able to rescue herself due to the family's dire financial situation.


Though the physical abuse was sporadic, financial abuse was constant in the relationship. Jane's husband exercised control through reckless spending, particularly on cars, that he knew she was too fearful to question.

"He bought more cars than we had money. In fact, in one year, he bought 13 cars," says Jane. "He'd buy older cars that cost between $500 and $2,000 on credit. He would sometimes trade them in, but we would have as many as four cars at one time. I did the budgeting. Every time he bought a car, I would have to try and fit it into the budget. The numbers didn't add up. In 2009, we even had to file for bankruptcy," says Jane.

"We were always robbing Peter to pay Paul. We would barely have enough to survive, and the next thing I knew, he would go and buy a car and really mess us up," she adds.

The Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, defines financial or economic abuse as controlling a person's ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources, and says it is "as common in battering relationships as physical and psychological abuse." Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Allstate Foundation found that 75% of Americans fail to connect domestic violence with economic abuse, yet it plays an integral role in 98% of all cases of domestic violence.

"That type of reckless behavior makes victims feel crazy. He was using this spending as a way of exerting his power and control. In a healthy relationship, it would be a negotiation," says Kim Pentico, director of the Economic Justice Program at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

"The use or abuse of finances literally drove [Jane] and her family further into debt, which made her ability to get out more challenging," Pentico adds.

"The fewer options a woman has, the greater the likelihood that she will fall back into the cycle of violence. One of the primary challenges that women face when leaving an abuser is the lack of financial security and support to leave a violent home," says Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of the YWCA USA.

"There are no bruises, so people often fail to make the connection," says Vicky Dinges, senior vice president, corporate responsibility, Allstate. "Without the resources necessary to care for themselves or their children, victims of domestic violence are too often forced to make unfair decisions between safety and financial stability."

The National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Allstate Foundation created a curriculum about a decade ago called "Moving Ahead Through Financial Management." It can be accessed for free at More than 800,000 victims from all income levels have gone through the program.

The curriculum, and the recovery process, begins by helping domestic violence and financial abuse victims identify if they are in one of these destructive financial abuse patterns.

In addition, the curriculum provides financial education and skills to victims of financial and domestic violence by teaching them financial basics such as credit repair, budgeting, and saving.

"Part of the curriculum helps victims and survivors repair their credit, because many of their abusers do things like take loans out in their name or max out their credit cards so they don't have the ability to get their own home or car," says Dinges.

They also get tips on gathering and safeguarding financial documents and steps to take if they're victims of identity theft--a common occurrence in financial abuse cases. And they're encouraged to do things such as take pictures of assets in the home and take other measures that are unique to people in their situations.

"This gives them knowledge and confidence, and it shows a path forward and a path out of the abuse," says Dinges.

NNEDV and Allstate also partner with organizations that teach interview and job search skills and provide loans, typically around $500, for expenses such as childcare and credit repair.


When Jane and her husband married in 1982, they lived a middle-class lifestyle. She was making about $25,000 a year as a claims representative at an insurance company. Her husband, who worked at a company that built vinyl doors for houses, made slightly less. They were both active members in their church in Ohio.

"The first physical abuse happened about three years after we were married. We were in the kitchen painting with our two kids. Something made him mad, and he threw a chair at me. I was shocked because I had never seen him act like this," says Jane. Despite her husband's apologies and promises, the physical abuse started happening every few months.

"In one incident, he started threatening me and I ran out of the house. I was pregnant with our third child. I figured I would be safe if I got outside because he wouldn't leave our other two young children alone in the home. I was wrong. He came after me, knocked me down, began kicking me, and dragged me back" says Jane.

As is a characteristic of the mindset of victims of abuse, Jane felt somehow responsible for her husband's behavior.

"He would say things to me like 'you don't do anything for me.' I worked so hard to keep our house clean and to provide for the family, but I felt like it wasn't enough. I believed if I just did better, this would all stop," says Jane.

"A lot of the control is verbal, and after a certain time you start believing it," says Dinges. "It tears at the person's confidence, self-esteem, and they are too embarrassed to reach out for help."


One morning in 1996, Jane's sister called the house and her husband answered the phone in one of his rages. He threatened to kill the whole family if her sister came to the house. Shocked and horrified, Jane's sister alerted their mother to the situation. Jane was at work and unaware that her family was now involved.

"I walked into the house and it was empty. I found out my mothercalledthe church and my husband and told him die was on her way to kill him. If you know my mother, you know she meant it," says Jane. "When I got home from work he was gone.

I fell to my knees, prayed, and called a locksmith." I

By October of that year, Jane and her husband were divorced. Initially, she and her children had to move in with her mother, but a few months later, Jane cashed in her retirement savings of $12,000 and bought a house in the suburbs.

Although her husband was ordered to pay $4,470 a year in child support, he rarely gave Jane money at all. "The financial abuse was even worse after the divorce," says Jane. "In Ohio, child support is automatically taken out of the paycheck. He quickly figured out that if he left his job and worked for cash, he wouldn't have to pay anything."

Over the next eight years, Jane worked part time, earning about $25,000 a year, and earned two degrees. She took out more than $100,000 in student loans, which she used for living expenses, and she also received financial help from her mother, friends, and the church.

One of the community organizations she reached out to for guidance introduced her to the Financial Empowerment curriculum created by the NNEDV and the Allstate Foundation. "It started me on a path to empowerment," says Jane. "I have a budget, a debt repayment plan, and was able to rebuild my credit from almost nothing to the high 600s."

She currently serves on a number of domestic violence task forces and plans to start training for church leaders to promote awareness and teach appropriate responses to abuse. The thing she is most proud of, however, is that her children are grown, have great careers, and that others can learn from her story.


Document your assets: "Take pictures of everything before you leave. If you're worried about getting caught, pretend you're taking pictures of your kids. You also want to gather the family's financial documents," says Pentico.

Make a plan: "Be realistic about what the costs are going to be on your own. Are you going to be able to get an apartment? Are you going to have to live with family? Are there programs that you weren't aware of, like those for first-time home buyers? Find ways and places to save even small amounts until you have enough to leave," she adds.

Don't go it alone: Don't try to do it by yourself. Seek help, whether it's a local shelter or a national hotline. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233). Your local YWCA can also be a tremendous resource and can provide shelter.


* Controlling how money is spent

* Withholding money, basic living resources, medication, food, etc.

* Giving an 'allowance'

* Not allowing their partner to work or earn money

* Stealing money, identity, credit, property, etc. from their partner

* Overuses credit cards

* Refuses to pay bills

* Makes all the financial decisions

* Forces their partner to file fraudulent legal/financial documents

* Harasses their partner at their workplace


* Evaluate personal confidence with finances

* Get information about assets and liabilities

* Make copies and store them in a safe place

* Don't forget SSNs, marriage certificates, documentation/photos of joint property and possessions

* Build a savings for your self

--Save change

--Skim raises and bonuses

--If leaving, take half of joint account

* You will need to start your own credit history


Financial Records Checklist

The following list of documents may help you rebuild your financial life, At a minimum, make note of account numbers, the phone number for your bank or credit union, credit card companies or other lenders. With the account numbers and contact information you will be able to reconstruct many of these documents.

* Bank statements and cancelled checks

* Bank certificates of deposit

* Brokerage account statements

* Credit card accounts, loan documents and statements

* Mortgage applications and repayment records

* Pay stubs or income receipts for the last six months for you and your partner (make sure you remember to include other possible sources of income such as royalties, contractual work, advances, etc.)

* Tax filings and refunds

* Business financial statements

* Employee benefit records including insurance, stock options and bonuses

* Statements of all retirement accounts

* Copies of credit card bills and other incurred debt (car loan, etc,)

* Records of business partnerships

* Money order receipts

* Documentation from any public assistance received

You also want to gather legal documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards; property documents, such as title documents, vehicle registrations, and insurance policies, and health records.

The Difference Between Financially Healthy and Abusive Relationships


* True partners communicate openly, negotiate disagreements

* Make financial decisions and goals jointly

* Both have access to money, statements, and spending

* Equal decision making, even if one makes more money or handles finances


* Dependence, intimidation, and fear

* One partner controls how money is spent

* Withhold money, basic resources

* Prevent you from working

* Steal from you

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Author:Tisdale, Stacey
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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