What is Financial Abuse?

In coming forward with my own personal experience with financial abuse, I am grateful for a new campaign called Purple Purse which is helping to raise awareness for this type of domestic violence.  As I was doing research on this, I realized there is little information out there to help victims despite the staggering statistic that financial abuse happens in 98% of all cases of domestic violence* .

So what exactly is domestic financial abuse?  It is a tactic used by abusers to gain control and power in a relationship and in doing so, traps their partners into staying in the relationship.  This abuse is usually subtle and not quite as direct as physical abuse but also has devastating short and long term consequences.  The following list was taken directly from the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) which describes how abusers gain financial control over their victims.

  • Forbidding the victim to work
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Hiding assets
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

If you can relate to any of the above situations and want help to break free from an abusive relationship, please take that first brave step and reach out for help by telling someone.  Do not continue to be a silent statistic.  If you do not have anyone you can trust, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 for support.

At present, a majority of people do not realize that financial abuse is a form of domestic violence.  The Allstate Foundation with the help of actress Kerry Washington are hoping to change this with a recent public service announcement video about financial abuse.  I applaud both for their admirable efforts and hope that together we can make a difference in ending domestic violence.

* purplepurse.com/the-inside

 

It Can Happen to You

When we think about domestic violence, we immediately think about physical abuse.  Keep in mind though, there are varying variables and degrees of domestic violence all of which are impactful.  The Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”  The abuse can be overt and obvious.  At the same time, it can be subtle and slowly happen over time.  Domestic violence does not discriminate.  It can happen to anyone, it happened to me and it can happen to you.  The key warning sign to look out for in an abusive relationship is the need for power and control.  Abusers share in common this characteristic trait.

If you told me years before that I would find myself in an abusive relationship, I would have scoffed at you.  I was a smart, strong, independent woman.  I would never allow myself to be with a someone who was abusive to me.  Like many, since the abuse wasn’t blatantly physical in nature, I didn’t realize I was in a abusive relationship.  However I soon realized that financial (economic) abuse is a form of domestic violence!  In my situation, the financial abuse was gradual.  It was not as immediate or direct like a physical assault but it did have devastating consequences which resulted in losing our family home to foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy protection and destroying my credit.  With that said, the abuse not only affected me but also my children.  Although I suffered financially, I am glad I made the decision to get out.

If you are ready to receive help but do not have anyone to call, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233).  Breaking the cycle and taking a stand starts with just one phone call.

Freedom of Speech

So I bet you are wondering how the First Amendment made its way into my blog about domestic financial abuse.  Well let’s just say, SJC’s need for control extended to my inalienable right to freedom of speech as well since abusers like to exert power over their victims.  Yes that is right, you read that sentence correctly.  SJC wanted to prevent me from exercising free speech.  Where was the ACLU when I needed them?

It all began in March 2013, when I found out that my civil case against SJC for the money he still owed came to a screeching halt after he subsequently filed for bankruptcy listing me (and my son) as creditors!  In careful review of his bankruptcy filing, SJC curiously listed his girlfriend, mother, uncle and both maternal grandparents as creditors as well in an attempt to hide his deliberate motivation to eliminate the debt he owed to us.  In a desperate plea for help, I sent an email to mutual colleagues and friends asking for assistance in getting SJC to do the honorable thing.  Since I felt that the legal system was failing me, I was hoping to appeal to people’s sense of compassion and empathy.

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In response to my email, SJC had the bold audacity to file a domestic violence restraining order against me.  My abuser was now accusing me of domestic violence!  He wanted to prevent me from speaking out and breaking the silence of abuse.  In open court, his attorney feebly argued that my emails have affected SJC’s work and personal reputation and that they want the Court to order me to stop.  Later, when it came time for me to speak (since I could not afford legal representation), I counter argued that it was not my email communications which have impacted SJC’s reputation but that in fact it was a direct result of his own actions and behavior.  Rather than take ownership or accountability for ensuing events, SJC tried to squarely place blame on me.  Needless to say, the Judge rightfully dismissed the domestic violence restraining order against me on the legal basis for freedom of speech.  Although it was a small battle that was won, it made me feel a sense of empowered self worth that I haven’t felt in years.  This time the justice system prevailed and speaking out in defense of my rights proved to be successful!

Remember, domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that involves power, isolation and control.  Abusers have the “ability to fool themselves and others. They are artists in their ability to find ways to blame other people or events for their inappropriate behavior”.  For more profile information about abusers, please click on this link.  To get out of an abusive relationship, break the cycle by breaking the silence!  Help cannot find its way to you unless you tell someone about the abuse.

My Story…

My story began in 2008. I was in a relationship with a man who I will refer to as “SJC”. At that time, I was a single mother to an 8 year old boy. SJC came into our lives promising us a storybook life that had all the makings of ending “happily ever after”. Based on my love and trust in him and his promise of a brighter future for us including my son, I foolishly lent SJC money despite knowing the adage that money and friends don’t mix. But to me, he wasn’t just a mere friend.  SJC had me believing that we were family and explained that the loan was going to be used to secure a lucrative business deal that would pave the way for our lifetime together. To add to this convincing promise, SJC suggested that I not work and instead stay home to care for “our son”. Little did I know at that time, in giving up my financial independence, I gave SJC complete control of our lives.

Over the next few months I became increasingly worried about the loan but since SJC was the sole provider for my son and me, I did not press him as assertively as I should have. As you can imagine, tension started mounting in our relationship and every time we would fight, SJC would charismatically apologize and I would fall into the pattern of forgiving him. This set the tone for the subtle abuse which would soon enough become overt abuse.  In knowing he had full financial control over us, SJC took advantage of this power which made it easy for him to escalate to emotional and mental abuse.  Many examples of this included occasions when SJC would force me to listen to his verbal attacks by preventing me from leaving the room since he would use his body to block the doorway. Or times when I went to reach for the phone, SJC would wrestle the phone away so that I could not call for help. After some of our fights, SJC would take away my cell phone as well as cut off my credit card. Once on vacation, SJC abandoned my son and I but not before taking cash out of my wallet then once again canceling my credit card so that I did not have access to money. This repeated pattern of abuse was his way of reminding me that he was in control.

Despite all of this, I continued to love this man since at this point, the abuse clouded my reality and I lost myself in the process. I second guessed myself, my choices and my worth. I hated myself for lending SJC the money and lived with this guilt every day. I hated myself for allowing SJC to have such a strong hold over me and my son that soon I found myself in a hole I was unable to emotionally come back from so I attempted suicide. This isn’t something I particularly want to relive but I feel it’s important to share since during this dark time, I did not seek help. I was too embarrassed to ask for assistance. I did not want to be judged for my mistakes. I kept quiet and allowed the shame and self-loathing to consume me.

In 2011, our relationship deteriorated beyond repair. SJC became increasingly abusive and paranoid. Inexplicably, he constantly was accusing me of cheating on him. One night as I slept, SJC came home and raced upstairs to the master bedroom because he thought he heard voices belonging to me and a mystery stranger. After turning on the lights and checking our bedroom, he then proceeded to inspect every room in the house even going so far as checking my son’s bedroom while he slept. I demanded to know why he was acting so crazy. In typical SJC fashion, he expertly turned the question back on me and said I should ask myself what I did to cause him to behave this way. During this narcissist rant, he ended up admitting to me that he placed digital voice recorders around our home to “catch me cheating”. I was so taken aback by his admission that I wasn’t sure what and how to feel. There was a mix bag of varying emotions from being indignant to frustrated and at times, frightened because he clearly was not mentally or emotionally stable. In the past, SJC has invaded my right to privacy by going into my computer files and personal records without my knowledge and consent but I forgave him since he somehow manipulated me into believing that we should share everything about ourselves in order to be in a true and honest relationship. This time however the voice recorders and going into my son’s room was inexcusable. Just as abusers fall into patterns of repeated behaviors, their victims also are complicit with allowing it to happen over and over again so although I was angry, confused and hurt, I forgave him once more.

However weeks later after giving myself time to fully reconcile his volatility and the constant abuse of power and control I endured during the relationship, I finally found the courage and strength to break things off with SJC.  Additionally, I had enough of the cheating accusations and I wanted to break free.  However, the abuse did not simply end there.

Days later, SJC continued harassing me with constant text messages. What’s worse was when he sent my son a text message accusing me of stealing from him.  Needless to say, it wasn’t very fun to explain to my young son that SJC was being petty and vengeful by demanding I return all gift items he gave me.

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Since I did not respond to this text, SJC decided to come to my house without warning to personally make his demand for the gift items. To get rid of him since my son was also home at that time, I packed everything he bought me and threw it over the balcony into the front patio so that I would not have to open the front door to let him in. I wish at that time I filed a restraining order against SJC but in the back of my mind, I was afraid if I got him too angry he will continue to withhold the money he still owed. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and I will never make this same mistake again.