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I See DV as the Outcome of Economic, Social & Political Inequality

Money issues can limit a survivor’s ability to move past abuse. Sara Shoener, Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice and our guest blogger, works to educate survivors on ways to recover financially from domestic violence. Today she shares her perspective on how abuse, money and freedom intersect.

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Please tell us about the work that you do.

I am the Research Director for the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, which is a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. We bring together experts to provide training to advocates and attorneys, to organize communities and to offer leadership on addressing the critical issues domestic violence survivors are currently facing across the country.

Right now we are focusing on our Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative, where we are working with a group of inspiring consumer rights, anti-poverty, and domestic violence attorneys and advocates to develop some really ground-breaking projects, training, and written resources that focus on domestic violence survivors’ physical and economic security.

How do domestic violence and finances intersect?

Economic hardship and domestic violence exacerbate one another. Research shows that women living in poverty experience domestic violence at twice the rates of those who do not. Domestic violence increases financial insecurity, and in turn, poverty heightens one’s vulnerability to domestic violence. Batterers’ acts of sabotage and control can create economic instability that last long after the abuse has ended.

Domestic violence has been linked to a range of negative economic outcomes such as housing instability, fewer days of employment, job loss and difficulty finding employment. Correspondingly, poverty limits one’s options for achieving long-term safety.

Domestic violence survivors often rank material factors such as income, housing, transportation, and childcare as their biggest considerations when assessing their safety plans. Given the relationship between finances and domestic violence, it’s not surprising that research has often reported income to be one of (if not the) biggest predictors of domestic violence.

What does economic abuse look like?

It can look like a lot of things, but is generally thought of as batterers’ tactics to control their partners or ex-partners by restricting or sabotaging their access to material resources. Something we hear about a lot is abusers putting survivors’ names on bills or taking credit cards out in survivors’ names to drive them into debt and ruin their credit.

Employment sabotage, such as hiding a survivor’s car keys on the day of a job interview or stalking her or him at work, is also economic abuse. Batterers use institutions survivors often navigate to bolster their economic abuse, too. For example, an abuser might use the custody court system to require the mother of his children not to move out of the area, arguing that if she leaves he will not be able to see his children as easily.

Survivors who have received orders like this have been forced to give up economic opportunities in other places such as better jobs, affordable education, and rent sharing with family members. Other batterers continually file protection orders against their partners and ex-partners in order to force them to miss school or work to be present in court.

Domestic violence can create economic damage that endures long after an abusive relationship is over, too. Survivors often face damage to their credit reports, social networks, bodies, mental wellbeing and professional reputations that generate persistent economic loss. These negative economic impacts restrict survivor’s options and as increase their vulnerability to future harm.

What interested you in this work? 

The short answer is that I recently spent many months on a research project where I had the opportunity to meet domestic violence survivors from different communities and interview them about their experiences seeking safety through institutions such as the court system, public housing and law enforcement.

What I heard from all types of people in all types of places was that they didn’t have the economic stability necessary to end the abuse they were experiencing. Sometimes that included huge ongoing expenses such as affording rent on one’s own. Other costs were more of a one-shot-deal, such as having to take time off work to go to court for a protection order.

The beginning of the longer answer is that the domestic violence survivors I have met are some of the strongest, smartest, kindest and most resilient people I will ever be lucky enough to know. Yet, they often face institutional barriers to safety rooted in social factors such as race, class and gender. Because of that, I find this work especially important and meaningful.

Please complete this sentence. I see DV ___________.

I see domestic violence as the outcome of economic, social, and political inequality.

About Our Contributor

Sara Shoener is the Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice. She has been advocating for and conducting research on effective approaches to reduce violence against women for over 10 years. Sara’s love of qualitative research stems from the opportunity it grants to listen to and learn from women’s narratives. As a result, she has conducted numerous focus groups, surveys, needs assessments, program evaluations and in-depth interviews related to anti-violence projects. A Truman Scholar and American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellow, Ms. Shoener is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, where she also obtained her MPH.

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Taking a Spin Around the Power and Control Wheel

We recently debunked the myth that abuse can be described as a cycle. If we can’t describe it that way, is there a more accurate way to talk about abuse?

Yes! It’s called The Duluth Model, and at its core is the Power & Control Wheel.

Relationship violence is a combination of a number of different tactics of abuse that are used to maintain power and control — which are the words in the very center of the wheel. The center is surrounded by different sets of behaviors that an abusive partner uses in order to maintain this power and control.

These sets of behaviors are:

  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse
  • Male privilege

A lot of these behaviors can feel subtle and normal — often unrecognizable until you look at the wheel in this way. Many of these can be happening at any one time, all as a way to enforce power within the relationship.

Think of the wheel as a diagram of the tactics your abusive partner uses to keep you in the relationship. While the inside of the wheel is comprised of subtle, continual behaviors, the outer ring represents physical, visible violence. These are the abusive acts that are more overt and forceful, and often the intense acts that reinforce the regular use of other subtler methods of abuse.

How and why do we use the power and control wheel?

Our advocates use the wheel to help teach callers about the dynamics of an abusive relationship. It shows a victim that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, and that these tactics of maintaining power and control are common to abusers.

We also use the wheel to help other callers like friends, family members or even someone who may identify as abusive to better understand the complicated components of abuse and the many forms it can take. This can be really helpful in explaining the difficulties and dangers of leaving an abusive relationship.

To learn more about the Power and Control Wheel, visit the Home of the Duluth Model online.

Mary Kay survey

Get Back Your Green: Tips for Economic Recovery After Abuse

“Money makes the world go round.” If you’ve ever struggled with money, you know the truth behind that frustrating saying. Financial issues can make you feel stuck, like your whole world is on hold. For someone leaving abuse or thinking about leaving, this can be one of biggest factors that gets in the way.

A survey sponsored by Mary Kay, Inc. in 2012 found that 74% of survivors stayed with an abusive partner for longer than they wanted to because of financial concerns. It’s also one of the main barriers for those who are trying to leave.

Exiting an abusive situation is more challenging if a victim is stressing about finances while trying to rebuild their life. Financial difficulties can also be a reason victims return to abusers.

In a time when there are so many other things to think about and plan for, how do you safeguard against some of the financial risks that come with leaving?  We’ve put together some tips for economic safety and recovery that are helpful right after leaving. Please know that these may not be the right options for everyone. Please evaluate your own situation, and keep your safety in mind.


Securing your financial information

If your ex has knowledge of or access to your passwords, SSN, credit card statements or other identifying info, it could be a good idea to take measures to keep your personal info safe.

Call banks, credit card companies and utility companies (including wireless phone services) to change your account numbers, PIN numbers and passwords. Change the passwords to online banking and email accounts.

Close any joint credit cards. You may consider opening your own checking account and applying for a credit card if you don’t already have one, in order to start building your own credit history.

To further secure your financial information, open a P.O. box for mail and any financial documents you might receive.

Accessing your credit report

A credit report shows if bills and loans have been paid on time and if there are any outstanding loans or money owed. You can request a free copy of your credit report from any of the following agencies — and that’s a good place to start. Review your credit report at least once a year.

Equifax at 1-800-525-6285

Experian at 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289

Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228

Credit reports can determine the amount and interest rate of loans you apply for. A good credit history is also important for renting a home, getting insurance, applying for a job and more — employers, insurance companies and creditors often check your credit report.

Addressing and rebuilding a bad credit report

In starting to repair a bad credit score, remember to make consistent payments on rent and loans. While these often won’t show up on your credit report, you can ask landlords, utility companies and other creditors to supply this info when you’re applying for credit. A record of on-time payments looks good.

You can also ask these people to write positive credit reference letters for you when you’re applying for credit.

Building up a good credit score takes time, but paying bills on time, paying off debt, correcting and disputing any mistakes and refraining from building up additional debt are steps in the right direction.


Additional Resources

Local domestic violence programs have different resources you can access for support and these programs can also help with your safety concerns after leaving. If you call NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) our advocates can locate programs in your community.

  • The Allstate Foundation’s Click to Empower is an organization designed specifically to assist survivors with economic challenges. They have online resources, courses and grants to help survivors “get safe, stay safe and thrive.”
  • The Women’s Institute for Financial Education (WIFE) has many helpful articles in the Divorce category.
  • Women’s Law includes more information on financial protections to take if you’re getting ready to leave or have just left an abusive relationship.

Are you a survivor who faced financial hardships once you left? How did you handle financial obstacles?

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When Money Becomes a Form of Power and Control

Imagine getting an allowance when you were a young kid. Maybe you’d get a dollar or two every week — you’d hide it away to save up for something big, or you’d feverishly rush to the store and spend it all at once and quickly fall into sugar shock from your candy purchases.

Now imagine getting an allowance as an adult. This time not from your parents, but from your partner. This allowance comes not with excitement and joy, but with feelings of confinement, frustration and maybe resentment. Maybe this is enough to buy necessities, but it might not be — and your partner always checks the receipts.

Money can be a stressful factor in any relationship. When there are intermingling finances, bills to be paid and considerations to be made about saving for the future, money can become a source of conflict. In a healthy relationship, each partner feels like they have a say in decision-making, even when it comes to money.

In a relationship where some form of abuse is present — whether physical or emotional — it is not uncommon that an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This is known as economic or financial abuse and it can be very difficult to recognize. It can be something as seemingly innocent as an abuser telling their partner what they can and cannot buy, or something as major as an abuser restricting a partner’s access to bank accounts.

This abuse can take different forms, including:

  • Giving an allowance and closely watching how their partner spends it or demanding receipts for purchases
  • Placing the partner’s paycheck in their bank account and denying them access to it
  • Preventing their partner from viewing or having access to bank accounts
  • Forbidding their partner to work or limiting the hours that they can work
  • Maxing out credit cards in their partner’s name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin their significant other’s credit score
  • Stealing money from their partner or their partner’s family and friends
  • Using funds from children’s savings accounts without their partner’s permission
  • Refusing to give their partner money, food, clothing, gas or medicine
  • Living in their partner’s home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
  • Making their partner give them their tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns

When an abusive partner is in control of the finances, planning for an independent future without them can feel difficult. Thankfully, there are many organizations that aid survivors of domestic violence and financial abuse. These groups can help create plans that will support a victim who is attempting to leave and can also help them become economically stable and self-sufficient after leaving.

No one should prevent you from having access to the money that you earn. If your partner is acting in any of these ways, call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates can help you come up with ways to save money and can also connect you with local programs. Stay tuned for a post on Thursday to learn about these organizations and about tips for economic safety within your relationship.

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50 Obstacles to Leaving: 11-20

Can you imagine the frustration of a victim being asked, “Why don’t you just leave?”

While leaving seems like a quick and easy fix to escape abuse, we know that leaving an abusive partner is a complicated, difficult challenge and often the most dangerous time in a relationship. Victims have many reasons for staying. This week we’re giving you 50, adapted from Sarah M. Buel’s “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.”

11. Family Pressure: Family members exert pressure if they believe there’s no excuse for leaving a marriage or if they’re in denial about the abuse.

12. Fear of Retaliation: The batterer has shown willingness to carry out threats and the victim fears harm to themselves or the children if they leave.

13. Fear of Losing Child Custody: The batterer has used the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking.

14. Financial Abuse: Financial abuse can take many different forms depending on the couple’s socio-economic status — ex. If victims have been forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions.

15. Financial Despair: The victim realizes that they cannot provide for themselves or their children without the batterer’s assistance.

16. Gratitude: The victim feels gratitude toward the batterer because the batterer has helped support and raise their children from a previous relationship, or take care of them if they have health, medical or other problems.

17. Guilt: Batterers have convinced victims that the violence is happening because it’s their fault.

18. Homelessness: Homeless abuse victims face increased danger, as they must find ways of meeting basic survival needs of shelter, food, and clothing while attempting to elude their batterers.

19. Hope for the Violence to Cease: This hope is typically fueled by the batterer’s promises of change, pleas from the children, or family’s advice to save the relationship.

20. Isolation: The victim has been cut off from family, friends and colleagues and lacks a support system or people to stay with.