Women and Money: The Effects of Economic Abuse

We’ve heard of the emotional abuse that occurs in domestic violence situations. The way the abuser makes the abused feel worthless and helpless by belittling all that they are. The careful shredding of any glimpse of self-esteem. We’ve heard of psychological abuse, the up and down merry-go-round that can make the abused feel crazy and doubt their own version of events. We’ve heard of physical abuse. The “accidents”, the sick days and the stories to cover it up. With all the forms of abuse within domestic violence, now there’s one more you can name. Economic abuse is the financial control of a spouse or domestic partner in a way that prevents independence. Economic abuse happens a lot against women.

This means preventing someone from obtaining a job or taking all of their paychecks if they do work. It can also mean preventing someone from obtaining an education, a driver’s license or other skills that would qualify them for employment. Economic abuse might involve limiting access to bank accounts or financial records. It could also mean incurring unsecured debts like credit card debt, only in the abused spouse’s name.

Women are particularly vulnerable to economic abuse because traditionally women are more likely to have missed years of job experience or education to stay at home caring for children. A woman is more susceptible to economic abuse even if she is in the workforce because women often earn less.

Economic abuse of women finds many examples throughout history. Women were barred from owning property or entering the workforce for many centuries. Even once women allowed to work, they were excluded from high paying professions. Gaining economic independence as a gender still continues for women today.

The control exerted on a woman through financial means might even occur in households that otherwise do not show any significant signs of abuse. The abuser might design the household spending in such a way that their spouse or partner is forced to use all of their paychecks for necessary expenses to ensure nothing is left over. Economic abuse is a form of control intended to prevent the abused spouse or partner from leaving the relationship. With no way to save money, get a job or schooling, with no access to credit, the abuser thinks their spouse or partner will be forced to stay in the relationship.

Leaving an abusive relationship often requires outside help. Domestic violence agencies can provide a tremendous amount of support in leaving an abusive relationship, but they cannot erase the lifelong harm of economic abuse. A person who has suffered economic abuse who is able to leave their abuser will not be able to make up the time that was lost. They will likely be plagued by credit card debt or other debt related issues, like having a lower credit score that prevents obtaining an auto loan or home loan. A person who has earned less money will have lower Social Security and other retirement benefits. Those who have suffered economic abuse are more likely to need state and government subsidies just to afford food, housing, and medical care.

The effects of economic abuse, like any abuse, last a lifetime. The abused are more likely to suffer from depression and have low self-esteem. Economic abuse is a common form of domestic violence, but States are only now beginning to recognize economic abuse as a subcategory of domestic violence. Some states have recently proposed legislation to specifically include economic abuse in protection from abuse orders. This is important because the anxiety of not having enough money to meet basic living expenses can have the devastating effect of making a person who leaves an abusive relationship more likely to end up back with their abuser.

If you know anyone in this situation, please assist them in finding help or at least encourage them to seek outside help.

Thank you. <3

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