Money, power and control
Financial coercion is pervasive among cases of domestic abuse
People who have been abused by an intimate partner are often presented with a choice: Stay in the relationship and risk further harm—perhaps violence—or leave and risk homelessness.
That’s the observation of Alyssa Cozine, a community educator with Catalyst Domestic Violence Services in Chico. She’s used to hearing from people who don’t have the financial resources to leave abusive relationships, a leading and immediate cause of homelessness among women, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. National statistics also show that if a relationship is abusive, there’s a very good chance that money is used as a means of control.
“There’s some form of financial abuse in 98 percent of adult abusive relationships,” Cozine said. “It’s not one of those things people immediately think of when they hear the words ‘domestic violence.’ Not only is it really common, it’s really insidious and subtle.”
According to the international research journal Violence Against Women, financial abuse occurs “when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources, which diminishes the victim’s capacity to support him/herself and forces him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially.” The abuse usually goes unseen by friends and family, Cozine said.
It could be as straightforward as stealing money from a partner’s purse or wallet, or the manipulation could be more nuanced, such as identity theft, controlling the victim’s bank accounts or running up debt on joint accounts. Abusers might demand their partners hand over paychecks and limit them to an allowance, or they could physically prevent them from working by slashing the tires on their vehicle or battering them before an important meeting or job interview.
Whichever form it takes, abusive partners tend to downplay the extent of their financial manipulation and frame it positively, said Sarah Sullivan, an LGBTQ outreach specialist for Catalyst.
“They say, ‘I’m just really good at managing money. You don’t have to worry about that. I’ll take care of the finances.’”
Catalyst has been highlighting financial abuse this October as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In hosting and sponsoring local educational events, the nonprofit is partnering with Allstate Insurance Co.
Sonia Aery, the agency principal for Allstate in Chico, says the issue of financial abuse is “really close to our hearts. As an insurance agency, our whole goal is to help people build financial stability.”
Money troubles tend to strain relationships. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a group of more than 2,000 violence coalitions across the country, domestic violence is three times more likely to occur when couples are experiencing a high level of financial stress. And financial dependence is often the greatest barrier an abused partner must overcome in order to leave the relationship—or a strong motivation for returning, says Sullivan.
“It’s like, ‘the house isn’t in my name. The car isn’t in my name. I have no money, I have no resources to leave. I’m completely financially dependent on my partner,’” she said.
That’s why Catalyst has a rapid rehousing program based on the housing-first model. It helps financially support victims of domestic violence who’ve become homeless and get them into a safe living space as quickly as possible.
However, it’s a limited program, Cozine said, which means it’s offered as funding allows, and money is typically tight for domestic violence service providers.
“All of our funding for this year has been used up, so we can’t offer the services right now,” she said. “We’re hoping a rise in the popularity of the housing-first model will expand the program in the future.”
Catalyst still offers its counseling, referral and advocacy services for victims of any form of relationship abuse. It also has a 32-bed shelter where victims and families can stay for up to six months.
“Of course, we can still advocate for housing if someone doesn’t have anywhere to go,” Sullivan said.
Those who are experiencing abuse from a partner—financial or otherwise—can contact a local emergency response program such as Catalyst.
Independently, victims of financial abuse can take action if they’re planning to leave their relationship. On average, it takes seven or eight tries to leave for good, Cozine said, and it helps if personal affairs are in order. The National Network to End Domestic Violence suggests obtaining important documents such as credit reports, birth certificates and social security cards; opening a post office box where you can receive financial mailings; and changing PINs for ATM and debit cards and passwords to email and online bank accounts.
Also, opening a small savings account—or socking money away in a shoebox—can provide a cushion for when an abused partner attempts to leave.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it buys you options,” Aery said. “Being totally financially dependent on another person limits your choices in life.”