How To Recognize The Signs Of Financial Abuse
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence is defined as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” This type of violence can happen in any type of intimate relationship, whether it is within a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a familial relationship. For the purposes of this article, I am using romantic partnerships as my focus, but these issues can show up in any type of abusive relationship and the suggested solutions are the same.
Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, provoke fear, prevent a partner from doing what they want, or force them to behave in ways they don’t want. It can include physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of abuse can occur at the same time within the same intimate relationship.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually. In 98% of abusive relationships, financial abuse is also present and used as a tool of abuse and control. Why are domestic violence and financial abuse so harmful? Here are just a few statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner and reported it having an impact on their overall functioning.
44% of full-time employed adults in the U.S. reported experiencing the effect of domestic violence in their workplace.
Victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year.
Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
96% of employed domestic violence victims experience problems at work because of the abuse.
Victims of domestic violence may be unable to leave an abusive partner or may be forced to return to an abusive partner for economic reasons.
Your Partner Gives You An Allowance
This is very different from creating a budget and sticking to a spending plan with a partner. If your partner puts you on an allowance in order to have complete control over your spending, that is financial abuse. This could look like only giving you access to the amount of money they want you to spend during a certain timeframe, or it could look like closely monitoring your accounts to watch your spending. It’s not about being on a budget, it’s about controlling your behavior and decisions.
Your Partner Won’t Let You Access Financial Accounts
Similar to putting you on a tight allowance, another abusive behavior is restricting your access to financial accounts. Not every couple merges their finances and that’s okay. But if your partner will not allow you to access your own accounts or any joint accounts that you share, that is abusive behavior. It limits your ability to make your own decisions and have independence. It also makes it much more difficult for you to prepare to leave the relationship when you’re ready.
Your Partner Takes Out Debt In Your Name
Some abusers use money as a weapon by opening accounts and taking out debt in their victim’s name. This can happen secretly, without your knowledge, or you can be coerced by your partner to take out debt. This can be very damaging, because not only will you ultimately be responsible for any debt that is in your name, this can also destroy your credit. If you’ve read about why your credit score and credit report matter, you know that they aren’t just numbers. They determine your ability to get a loan for things like buying a home, buying a car, or going back to school. They also can determine whether or not you are approved for an apartment or hired for a job. All of these things not only can impact whether someone can successfully leave an abusive partner, but they can make or break a victim’s future.
If you want to check on your own credit and see if there are any open accounts that you didn’t not request on your own, you should pull your credit report. You can do that for free once a year from each of the three credit bureaus. Just visit AnnualCreditReport.com.
Your Partner Is Hiding Financial Issues From You
Perhaps your partner hasn’t taken out debt in your name or restricted your access to cash, but maybe they have their own major financial issues that you don’t know about. If you’re sharing a life with someone, and especially if you are legally bound to someone, it’s very important for everyone to be on the same page financially. If your partner is in a lot of debt, or they have lost their job, and they don’t tell you, they are putting you at financial risk. It can be difficult to have these conversations, but it’s imperative to be honest about these sorts of problems, especially if you are in a romantic relationship.
Your Partner Sabotages Your Career Or Income
As I mentioned above, between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse. This is not just a side effective domestic violence. It can often be a specific tactic to exert control over a victim. If you are unable to maintain a job and income, you will be more reliant upon your abuser, and have a more difficult time leaving an abusive relationship.
Abusers do this by preventing their victim from going to work, interfering with their work by making frequent phone calls or showing up at their office, or demanding that they quit. According to the CDC, victims of intimate partner violence “lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year, the equivalent of 32,000 jobs.”
So, what can you do about this if it’s happening to you?
Talk To A Loved One
One of the most insidious parts of domestic violence is that it can often be hidden in plain sight. Your loved ones might not know what is happening to you, so they don’t know that you need help. Plus, abuse can make you feel isolate and ashamed, which can lead to you keeping your distance from your loved ones. Even if you have become isolated from your loved ones, I guarantee there is someone who wants to hear from you and support you. Reach out to someone you trust and let them know what is going on.
Reach Out To A Support Organization
There are many organizations that exist out there to help victims of domestic violence. Not only can you use them to do research and find the resources that will help you, but some offer individual guidance and support, as well.
Just to name a few:
It’s important to understand that you are not alone. The less alone you feel, the less ashamed you will feel. There are so many people out there who have been through what you are going through, and there are so many people who want to help you. If you are not ready to reach out to a personal loved one, take the step of reaching out to one of the organizations above for support and advice.
Take Steps To Financially Support Yourself
If you’re being financially abused, it only makes sense that it would be incredibly difficult to leave the relationships. Your access to money, and therefore independence, has been intentionally limited. However, if there are any steps you can make to extricate yourself financially from your partner, you’ll be better off.
This can look like:
Opening a bank account in your own name that is completely separate from your partner and that they don’t know about.
Secretly setting aside small amounts of money over time.
Taking steps to improve your credit, like requesting that negative marks be removed from your credit report.
If you’re unemployed, beginning to make connections in preparation of starting a job search.
Talk To An Attorney
If you are married to your abuser, leaving the situation can be even trickier, due to legal and financial issues. That’s why it’s so important to speak to an attorney sooner rather than later so that you can learn what your options are and get someone on your side. An attorney can also give you advice on what steps you should be taking to safely extricate yourself from your abuser.
This can also be helpful if you are not married, but you know your abuser has ruined your credit. There are attorneys out there who can help you cancel or settle debt, or if necessary, declare bankruptcy. If this is a service you might need moving forward, check out The Tayne Law Group.
The most important thing to remember is that your safety is paramount. Only take action when you know you can remain safe while doing so. But you should also know that you are not alone. There are so many people out there who want to help you, whether they are your own personal loved ones or people who work for domestic violence organizations.
This piece was originally published on my ForbesWomen column.