Breaking the chains of financial abuse this Domestic Violence Awareness Month

by Kim Scouller

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While physical abuse tends to grab headlines, another insidious form of abuse often remains hidden in the shadows: financial abuse. Financial abuse, a tactic used by abusers to exert control and power over their victims, is a silent but devastating aspect of domestic violence that needs urgent attention. In fact, it’s estimated that 99% of domestic violence cases also involve financial abuse.

Financial abuse takes many forms, from restricting access to bank accounts, employment, or education to forcing victims to work against their will or stealing their money to running up large amounts of debt and ruining the victim’s credit score. It’s a deliberate strategy to keep victims financially dependent and, consequently, trapped in abusive relationships. The effects of financial abuse can be long-lasting and can extend even beyond the abusive relationship itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of financial abuse is how it perpetuates a cycle of abuse. Victims who lack the financial means to escape their abusers are often forced to remain in dangerous situations. They may fear homelessness, hunger, or losing custody of their children if they leave. This fear is exploited by abusers who use financial control as a weapon to maintain their dominance.

The consequences of financial abuse are profound and multifaceted. Victims may experience increased stress, anxiety, and depression as they grapple with the loss of financial independence. This abuse can have far-reaching implications for their future financial stability, making it difficult for them to rebuild their lives once they escape the abusive relationship. The lack of access to financial resources can hinder their ability to secure safe housing, find employment, or pursue educational opportunities.

Sadly, kids are seriously impacted, too. Children in households affected by financial abuse encounter hardships that can affect their growth and development. Witnessing their parent’s financial struggles can lead to psychological trauma and create a cycle of poverty that perpetuates for generations.

The intersectionality of financial abuse with other forms of domestic violence, such as physical and emotional abuse, complicates the issue even more. Victims often face a web of intertwined challenges that make it difficult to seek help. They may be isolated from support networks, feel ashamed or embarrassed about their financial situation, or believe that they have no way out.

There are a number of ways to properly address financial abuse. First, we must raise awareness about this hidden form of abuse. Education is crucial to help potential victims recognize the signs and seek help. This also means that women need to speak about it with other women, even if it’s not happening to them. Second, we need to train professionals, such as law enforcement officers, lawyers, and social workers, to identify and respond to financial abuse effectively. Additionally, financial institutions should play a more active role in helping victims by providing resources and support when they suspect financial abuse.

Legal reforms are also necessary to hold abusers accountable for financial abuse. Laws should be enacted to recognize financial abuse as a distinct offense, with appropriate penalties for perpetrators. These legal protections should extend to safeguarding victims’ financial assets and ensuring that they have access to financial resources when needed.

Society must invest in resources that help victims of financial abuse regain their independence. This includes funding for shelters, legal aid, and financial and credit counseling services specifically tailored to domestic violence survivors. Job training programs and educational opportunities can empower victims to rebuild their lives and break free from the cycle of abuse.

As we bring attention to domestic violence during the month of October, we must also spotlight financial abuse. Only by shining a light on this hidden epidemic and taking action to combat it can we hope to break the chains that bind victims to their abusers and empower them to reclaim their lives.

Kim Scouller is author of the book “How Money Works for Women” and a certified financial educator.