By: Charlestien Harris
Recognizing that October is National Domestic Violence Month, I wanted to bring attention to how domestic violence can affect the financial well-being of a victim and others around them.
Domestic violence is often defined as the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control carried out by one intimate partner against another. It can include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence as well as financial and emotional abuse. This article is written for both men and women because anyone can be victimized by domestic violence.
One of the side effects of domestic violence is the ability of the abuser to actively control the finances of the victim. So let’s look at what financial abuse is – it involves controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. They may also be financially prevented from working or providing their own source of money.
I wanted to talk about financial abuse as it relates to domestic violence because, most of the time, it is a commonly understood form of abuse. Financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. That is because victims are often too concerned about their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children to end the relationship, and financial insecurity is one of the main reasons victims return to an abusive partner.
Recognizing the signs of financial abuse in a relationship is so important because it could mean life or death for the affected victim. Family members are often unaware of the victim’s plight because some of the indicators can be so well disguised that they may not be recognizable.
Here are two categories of financial abuse that may help you recognize when and how financial abuse happens:
When a person or spouse uses or controls the money you have earned or saved, they are exploiting your resources. Some examples may include:
- Taking control of access to money you have earned or saved
- Using your assets for their personal benefit without asking
- Taking money or using credit cards without your permission
- Ruining your credit history by running up limits and then not paying bills
- Borrowing money or making charges without repaying
- Demanding that you turn over your paycheck, passwords, and credit cards to them
Controlling Shared Assets and Resources
This is when a person or spouse has complete control over the money in the relationship and you have little or no access to what you need. Examples may include:
- Criticizing every financial decision you make
- Reducing your freedom to plan or budget
- Making large financial decisions without your input
- Refusing to collaborate on finances
- Insisting you share your income but refusing to share theirs
- Forcing you to sign financial documents without explanations
- Making threats to cut you off financially when you disagree
If you are a victim of financial abuse, here are some tips to help get you on the right track.
- Develop an exit strategy. It is already a chaotic and stressful situation; creating an organized strategy is much like creating a budget and is key to you being able to resolve your physical and financial situation.
- Document your situation. Begin to gather important financial and personal documents such as pay stubs, tax forms, birth and marriage certificates, etc. This may help you with possible legal filings. You should store your exit plan and documents with trusted friends or family or in another secret, safe location outside of your home.
- Create an emergency fund. This is one tip that is often overlooked in a regular budget! This can be difficult to do, but get creative. You may be able to get a refund on previously purchased merchandise or stash some cash from birthday gifts, or maybe you can gather the extra change from cash purchases and save it in a safe place. Change can really add up!
- Establish credit in your own name. Having credit can be a lifeline in an emergency. If you do this before you leave your abusive situation, consider having your statements sent to a family member’s address.
Escaping an abusive relationship often means losing financial security as well as the means to regain it. I can relate to this fact, because I too am a former victim of domestic violence. It was very hard having to start over from scratch and not know how I was going to get back on my feet or support my small children. So often, victims feel inadequate and unsure of themselves due to the emotional abuse that accompanies financial abuse. Financial abuse is not something that gets better with time. In fact, it often escalates and can lead to other types of abuse.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
For more information on this and other financial topics, please feel free to call me at 662-624-5776, or email me at Charlestien.Harris@southernpartners.org.
Until next week – stay financially fit!
Charlestien Harris is a contributor to DeSoto County News. She is a financial expert with Southern Bancorp Community Partners whose articles are seen in a number of publications around the region. You’ll be seeing her columns weekly on the DeSoto County News website and our social media channels.