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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.

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?

when money becomes a form of power and control

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.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Life After

It takes a lot of courage to share these stories. Thanks to Shana Smith for speaking about her experience in the hopes of helping others.

This is something that you just don’t hear enough about. Survivors speak and they go from their abuse to what they are currently doing, not describing enough of the true gut-wrenching feelings that you have in the days weeks or months after you leave. Life after abuse is so positive, but truth be told, sometimes you feel like it’s harder than the abuse. There are many great programs that will help you with the transition from where you have been to where you will be. The Victim Compensation Fund is a great program that will help with Mental Health Therapy, relocation and many other things, plus some cities have at least one shelter to turn to. There are many options for assistance; you just need to safely find them.

After almost 8 years since the abuse, I still deal with my after. There are still days that I apologize incessantly, cry at the drop of a hat, feel totally worthless and take the weight of the world on my shoulders. I still don’t let people see beyond the mask of total happiness — if you met me, you would never know the past that I am hiding. This is the truth about life after abuse. I married my Prince Charming at 19 after a year of dating. We were married about 15 months before he became physically abusive. I became withdrawn from my family and long-term friends out of fear they would find out. I left after 3 ½ years of marriage following a huge fight.

I had no money except for an ATM card that I was just sure he would cancel quickly, no place to go and no clothes. I left with a bag that had no makeup, hair brush or deodorant – only a toothbrush and a change of clothes. I didn’t really know anyone to call, besides I really didn’t want anyone to know. So I drove to the only hotel in town. The hotel was booked! How in the world could a Days Inn in a town of 30,000 people, mostly farm laborers, be BOOKED?! NO WAY was my thought. I begged and pleaded for a room with no luck. I couldn’t go to a shelter for fear I would lose my job if they found out, so I slept in my car that night. Ok, let’s be honest, I didn’t sleep. I waited for him to find me – and then went into work the next day and acted as if everything was normal. My husband worked 30 minutes from our house so I knew that I could, safely, go home at lunch without him there to get something for the next day. I didn’t go home the day after I left because I didn’t know if he would expect that and be there. I knew what the consequence would be for leaving.

I met someone at my gym who let me sleep on the couch until I got on my feet. For three months I hid. For three months, my abuser came to my work to ‘take care of me,’ bringing me little things like protein shakes, soup and money, all to entice me back into my old life. I was so secretive about my separation that people I worked with thought we were still happily married until after my divorce was final. Even through it all I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to make everything ok. I knew that I couldn’t go back but that didn’t mean that I wanted anything negative to happen to him or me. I just wanted to move on; I wanted a healthy life and chance to be more than just So & So’s wife – I wanted to be Shana.

Most victims would say that you become the queen of appearance. You know how to smile regardless of what just happened and act like everything is fine. The months after I left were horribly hard. I thought it would never get better. I thought I would never be able to support myself, be able to pay my own bills and be a successful adult without him. I often thought about going back because that would have been so much easier, at least in that arena I knew what to expect.

I couldn’t handle most loud noises. A slamming cupboard in the next apartment would make me jump and TV shows with violence would give me horrible nightmares (I still don’t do well with them). I was sick to my stomach constantly worried that my work or my family would find out my secret. I didn’t sleep very well; always worried that he would come to get me. There were days that I would cry – just sob – because I felt like I failed. I was getting divorced at 23 years old. I couldn’t handle the reality in my mind as a complete failure. To this day I feel like that sometimes.

Two months after I left, I finally went to our apartment to move my things into storage and on that day he tried to kill me. I remember thinking that I would die by strangulation. Thankfully, he let me go and I eventually moved to San Diego where I eventually found a job. To forget the past, I drank and had little self-worth. I did anything to try and forget the past. I thought that forgetting it was better than dealing with it. Most people seem to shy away from people after being in an abusive relationship, but I ran head first into as much attention as I could. I went to therapy and tried to talk to my friends, but no one believed that the man I was married to would do anything to hurt me. I felt so isolated and only two people stuck by me through all of this.

I moved to Orange County in 2003, and it was my big chance for a future. I got a job with a temporary agency, making barely enough money to pay my bills, but everything was MINE. The best part was that HE didn’t know where I lived. Until the day he called and begged to get back together, he had changed.

We had been apart for 18 months so I wanted to believe him. I made the mistake of allowing HIM to come down and spend a weekend to talk and see if there was anything left of the relationship and to see if he had changed. How perfect! I could be with him and have no violence and then I hadn’t really failed at marriage, right? After spending time with him, I realized he hadn’t changed. He was still the same person. I asked him to leave and he did. Over the past several years he has emailed me and contacted me on MySpace and Facebook. I’ve come to realize he will never stop trying to reach me.

After a while, I started working on myself, realizing that my unhappiness was not good for me. I deserved to be happy. What I went through with him was not a reflection of who I am or what I am worth. I started writing again and encourage others to write about their day and feelings and then reflect on what you have written.

I began to feel like my old self again. I started looking at dating again and I even stopped drinking occasionally. I didn’t feel the need to be numb any more. In 2006, I had the amazing opportunity to become a mother through adoption.  Every moment of my life became about this little girl. I knew that everything had to change but I never realized that I had pushed my past so far back in my mind. I didn’t realize how much changing my life would require me to deal with things. I have been the mother to my beautiful daughter for 3 years and 5 months. Two and a half years ago I married an amazing man, a man that would never raise his hand to me. To this day, I don’t like scarves around my neck, or really anything touching the front of my neck. I apologize for everything, my fault or not. I worry that my daughter will follow in my footsteps, just as I followed in my mother’s. I worry that no matter how many times I say I am a SURVIVOR of domestic violence that I will have nightmares for the rest of my life.

Surviving domestic violence is one day at a time. I believe that forgiveness is important in moving on but not forgetting because this made you a stronger person. You lived through something that most people couldn’t. I don’t like people to pity me or apologize for what HE did to me. I want people to see me as a strong woman, a mother and a wife – a woman that survived and is thriving. A woman with a mission to help educate others on domestic violence.

Are you supposed to be terrified to leave? YES. Are you supposed to think about him afterwards? YES. Are you supposed to be able to move on and have a happy and healthy relationship? YES. There is no one way to deal with the after trauma of domestic violence but know you can do it. There are so many people here to help, so many organizations that want you to succeed!

You can do it. Each person deals with this in their own way, none of them are any better – only different.

http://talesfromasurvivor.blogspot.com

National Domestic Violence Hotline Awareness

Increased Financial Stress Affects Domestic Violence Victims

National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) data released today suggests a link between financial stress and domestic violence. For victims who called the national Hotline during the six week study, 54 percent reported a change in their household’s financial situation in the past year.

NDVH CEO Sheryl Cates said the study was developed in response to both an increase in anecdotal information from callers about how the economic downturn has affected their family, and questions from news media all over the country who asked whether the increase in the demand for Hotline, residential and non-residential services was related to the economy.

“Hotline calls in the third quarter of 2008 were up significantly over 2007, with September up 21 percent,” Cates said. “From what we were hearing on the calls, we believed that there was a link, but needed data to be sure.”

From November 12 until December 31, 2008, 32,316 Hotline calls were received, with 7,868 callers participating in the study. Of those, 54 percent (3,272) answered yes to the question “Has there been a change in your household’s financial situation in the past year?”

Sixty-four percent also answered the second question affirmatively, which was “Do you believe the abusive behavior has increased in the past year?”

“This increase in call volume comes at a time when private donations to the Hotline have decreased significantly,” said Cates. “About 35 percent of our budget is private funds from corporations, foundations and individuals. Given our current capacity and the current call volume, we project as many as 44,000 Hotline calls could go unanswered if we do not reach our funding goals.”