What Financial Abuse Looks Like
Content warning: this article makes references to abusive relationships, particularly those where financial abuse is in play. If you are experiencing financial (or any kind of) abuse, there is help out there for you. You are not alone, and you are not to blame. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Reach out to organizations like Purple Purse and the National Network to End Domestic Violence for information, resources, and support.
This month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As I mentioned last week, 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in their lives. That’s a large segment of our population. And the truth is, when physical and emotional violence are already involved, they typically aren’t the only tool of abuse that are being used. In fact, financial abuse is also present in 98 percent of abusive relationships.
Financial abuse is when money is being used as a tool of control or abuse.
Financial abuse is when money is being used as a tool of control or abuse. This form of abuse is used to keep a victim financially reliant on their abuser. This might keep them in the abusive relationship when they would otherwise leave. It can range from subtle to overt, and that’s why it can be difficult to identify, even if it’s happening to you. If you recognize some of the behaviors below, you might be experiencing financial abuse.
Withholding Money or Giving an “Allowance”
We all need money in order to get through life and support ourselves. That’s why withholding money or giving a restrictive allowance is an easy way to start controlling someone else. If someone makes you rely on them completely for any spending money, they are controlling you and financially abusing you. This is different than having a budget that allows both people to live within their means. This scenario is when the abuser won’t allow their victim any money to use when they need it or only gives them a limited amount. This makes the victim entirely reliant on their abuser and unable to make their own financial decisions.
If you’re in a partnership and sharing finances, hiding assets is a clear violation. It’s one thing to have your own separate accounts if you don’t want to merge things entirely. It’s another thing to hide assets so that your partner has no knowledge or access to them. Abusers might do this for a range of reasons. One reason is so that their victim won’t know to lay claim on those assets in the case of a divorce.
Note: If you are currently in an abusive relationship, hiding money might be one of your tools for escape. If you need to set aside money secretly in order to save up enough to leave the relationship, do it. Do what you need to do to escape the abusive relationship.
Forbidding You From Working
Earning our own money is one of the most important ways to be financially secure and independent. It allows us to save money for our future, invest in the things we value, and support ourselves. Taking away our ability to provide for ourselves is a significant way for an abuser to control and isolate us. Some abusers may completely forbid their victim from working. This might initially show up as not wanting their victim to have to work. But it can eventually escalate into disallowing their victim from working all together, preventing them from earning their own money and isolating them in the home.
Sabotaging Your Career
Related to forbidding a victim from working, some abusers will go as far as sabotaging their victim’s career. This can vary in severity. Some abusers might harass their victim while they are at work or prevent them from doing their job in some other way. They might also physically abuse them before important meetings or interviews so that the victim is unable to attend. Again, this tactic is used to keep the victim financially reliant on their abuser, as well as to isolate them from the outside world.
Running Up Debt In Your Name
One of the most damaging forms of financial abuse is when an abuser runs up debt in their victim’s name. Even if you’re married to someone, the only person truly responsible for debt is the one whose name is on it. In many abusive relationships, the abuser will either take out debt in their victim’s name and run up the debt, or they will use their victim’s existing accounts and run up their debt. Not only can this ruin the victim’s credit, but it can also leave them with a pile of debt that they cannot afford to pay back. This can make them reliant on their abuser and also in financial distress.
Destroying Your Credit
As I’ve written about in the past, our credit score and credit history can have a big impact on what kinds of opportunities we might have in the future. They determine whether we can get a student loan, a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card, an apartment… even a job. So it goes without saying that having a negative credit history can hurt our futures in a big way. That is why damaging a victim’s credit is an easy way for an abuser to exert control and harm over their victim. This can look like taking out debt in the victim’s name and then defaulting on that debt. It can also look like not making payments on bills that are in the victim’s name.
Making Large Purchases Without Consulting You
Of course, every couple is different. You don’t necessarily have to run every purchase by your partner, but it is often a good idea to have some ground rules on making big purchases. This is so that if your finances are merged and you have joint financial goals, you’ll be able to reach them together. It’s also a good idea to be on the same page. Some abusers will use joint money to make large purchases without consulting their victim, thus potentially putting both of them at financial risk.
Monitoring Your Spending
Just like the above example, every couple is different. In my own marriage, I manage the finances, which are mostly merged, so I typically can see all of my husbands transactions. This is essential for me so that I can make sure we’re staying on budget and can afford to pay our bills. In a financial abuse situation, the abuser would be monitoring spending to the point of control. In this scenario, the victim would be afraid to spend money on anything in case they will get in trouble.
Other forms of financial abuse:
Controlling how money is spent
Refusing to pay child support
Drawing out the divorce process
Not including the victim in financial decisions
Refusing to work or financially contribute to the family
Filing false insurance claims
There are certainly more examples for how financial abuse is used in relationships. And it doesn’t only happen within romantic relationships, it can happen in any kind of relationship. Next week, I’ll be writing more about how to prepare to get yourself out of this kind of situation. In the meantime, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or TTY 800-787-3224.