If you are considering leaving an abusive relationship —or you have already left — there are many resources available to domestic violence victims. They include government agencies, churches or support groups, all of which can provide safety, security and perhaps a financial escape.
According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed daily to domestic violence hotlines and 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner.
Unfortunately, money is the instigator in many situations that end up in domestic violence.
Kim Pentico, director of the economic justice program with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said there’s usually financial abuse in some context. The desire to control money can lead to a pattern of abuse and violent behavior. On the other side, one partner may stay in an abusive relationship out of fear that their financial situation will crumble. Financial struggles create barriers to getting or staying safe.
The graphic nature of physical assault, sexual assault, willful intimidation and other abusive behavior can be easily understood by anyone exposed to domestic violence.
But financial abuse often operates silently compared to other destructive behaviors.
According to the NCADV, between 94% and 99% of domestic violence victims suffer some form of financial abuse. Although it isn’t discussed nearly as much as other behaviors, Pentico said the financial disadvantage is so pronounced that many victims “are being battered because they can’t afford to not be battered. They see it as a choice between being battered and homelessness.’’
The NCADV said the intense need to control money is a red-flag characteristic of an abuser. Victims sometimes feel they can’t escape a violent relationship because they have no means to financially support themselves or their children. They have limited access to things like checking or savings accounts and may not even be aware of other financial investments or assets.
If they attempt to solve the problem by seeking employment or looking for training to improve their job situation, they often face some other form of financial abuse, things like:
- Imposing time restrictions that prevent the victim from getting a job
- Restricting spending for food, clothing or transportation needed for a job
- Demanding that the victim quit a job or sign over every paycheck
- Forcing the victim to sign financial documents
- Opening credit card accounts without the victim’s knowledge
The victim ultimately becomes financially isolated and often more dependent financially on the abuser.
Choosing to Leave
The decision to leave an abuser can be a difficult one. According to Pentico, when survivors of domestic violence make an act of independence (such as leaving), their lethality rate increases by seven times. The power in the relationship has been challenged and the abuser often does whatever it takes to stay in control in those circumstances.
If you have chosen to leave an abuser, create a safety plan that should include finding a new home and telephone number; securing emergency protective orders for you and your children; and contacting trusted family and friends to let them know about the situation.
Beyond that, there is the need to establish a financial plan for survival, starting with the basics like food and clothing.
The Supplemental nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a government benefits program better known as “food stamps.” It provides funding for food for qualified individuals and families. You can apply online or at one of the local offices in your area. Another good option is to stop at the front offices for most churches and many social organizations, who either have food pantries or access to one.
Free, or very cheap clothing is almost exclusively the province of thrift stores. The Salvation Army is the most widely-known source for clothing, but churches and some entrepreneurs have gotten into the business as well.
The best advice, especially if you’re plotting a way to leave:
- Request a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian). You can call Free Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228 or go online to annualcreditreport.com. Space out your requests. The three credit bureaus usually get the same information, so you’ll get a full view by ordering one every four months or so.
- Check the reports and make sure your spouse didn’t open any lines of credit in your name. If you suspect an error or fraud, dispute the information with the credit bureaus. Keep monitoring your credit report to make sure it’s not being adversely affected by any actions unknown to you.
- You must maintain a good credit history. For a successful new life, you need a good credit report. That’s how you rent an apartment, obtain a new credit card and get favorable insurance rates.
- Alert creditors if there’s a change of address, so you won’t miss any bill payments. Remember that women who revert to their maiden name will not erase the credit history established under their married name. That’s because credit history is tied to your Social Security number (not your name).
- It’s probably best to establish a new credit record under your own name if previous credit was held jointly with your spouse. If you turn existing joint cards into individual accounts, you won’t have to re-establish your credit if you file for divorce.
- You will need to make copies of things like birth and marriage certificates, bank statements and statements on shared assets. It would help to change your Social Security number and passwords on all accounts.
- Open bank accounts – savings and personal – for yourself. Make sure statements are sent to a secure address.
- If possible, put money aside so you have something to fall back on when you leave.
- Don’t take on more debt. Contact creditors and ask them to remove your name from joint accounts. It may help to contact a credit counseling agency for advice about nonprofit debt consolidation, especially if you have significant debt.
Financial education is essential to safety and security for victims of domestic violence. Research shows that individuals who participate in financial education programs are more likely to live on a budget, understand credit and save money, three major steps to a more secure life.
However, Pentico cautioned that financial education doesn’t automatically makes women safe.
“If access to money gets her further and further away, if it puts her in a building with more security, those measures can help,’’ Pentico said. “But if she learns about finances and rebuilds her credit, then he shows up to her house, that doesn’t help anything.’’
Financial education can’t control anyone’s behavior.
It can position someone to have better control over their life and maybe break the cycle of violence.
One of the better financial education projects — developed by the NCADV and the National Endowment for Financial Education — is called “Hope & Power For Your Personal Finances: A Rebuilding Guide Following Domestic Violence’’ to promote self-sufficiency.
Copies can be downloaded through the following link:
The NCADV provides training and technical assistance to domestic violence programs and other community organizations. It also partners with the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, which has provided $50 million to help more than 1 million survivors of domestic violence. It is the longest running national campaign for ending domestic violence.
There are plenty of other options for day-to-day needs. If you have credit card debt, talk to a credit counselor and find out the best methods for debt relief. If you can’t pay your electric bill, get help from a government, non-profit or your utility company.
Crime Victim Compensation
For additional domestic violence financial help, you could be entitled to additional money through the crime victim compensation program in your state. Nationally, the programs pay about $500 million annually to more than 200,000 victims of domestic violence. That’s mostly because those victims often suffer not only from violence and abuse, but also from financial stress and emotional trauma.
Federal grants provide about 35% of the funding, but much of the money comes through fees and fines charged against people convicted of the crimes.
Maximum benefits average $25,000. Some states offer more. Domestic violence victims account for about 33% of the claims.
The criteria for each state can be found at http://www.nacvcb.org/index.asp?sid=5.
Financial Abuse Resources
These outside sources can help domestic abuse victims with financial assistance.
- National Endowment for Financial Education; nefe.org. This foundation helps victims acquire the information and skills needed to gain control of their personal finances.
- Women’s Institute for Financial Education; wife.org. This group is aimed at women seeking financial independence through education.
- Financial Resources for Women and Children; frwc.net. This organization offers small loans and money management information.
- Social Security Administration’s Website for Women; ssa.gov/women/. Information about Social Security from a women’s viewpoint.
- Your Money Matters: Tax Information for Survivors of Domestic Abuse; irs.gov. This is practical information from the Internal Revenue Service.
- Catholic Charities.org has programs that fund the cost of relocation, including helping the victims find a home or apartment, while paying for the first month of rent. There are also job placement programs.
- The St. Vincent de Paul Society, also affiliated with the Catholic Church, offers financial assistance for shelter and sometimes picks up with first month’s rent.
- Education and Job Training Assistance Fund: Grants from the Allstate Foundation help domestic violence victims enter and stay in the workforce. The money (up to $1,000) can be used for classes, clothes, computers, and other resources.
Domestic Violence Survivor Nonprofits
Here are some nonprofit programs that help victims of domestic violence:
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (1-800-537-2238); nrcdv.org and www.vawnet.org
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233); ndvh.org
- National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673); rainn.org
- National Center for Victims of Crime (1-202-467-8700); victimsofcrime.org
- Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (1-866-879-6636); 866uswomen.org
- National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health (1-312-726-7020, ext. 2011); nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org
- The Office on Women’s Health has a state-by-state look at available resources: womenshealth.gov.
- Salvation Army locations offer support, strategies for keeping the family together and help with other services, including crisis accommodation, healthcare, legal services, emergency food and clothing and social groups.
- Give Back a Smile (800-773-4227): Front teeth damaged by a violent partner or spouse are repaired pro bono.
About The Author
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
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