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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.

domestic violence elderly

When Abuse Tarnishes The Golden Years

Abuse doesn’t discriminate against age — and an unsettling number of older Americans are in abusive relationships that either begin in or persist into later life.

No one deserves abuse, and no matter what your situation, there are ways to find help. It is never too late to report the violence and talk to someone about it.

Why Now?

Abuse can begin later in life or start earlier and continue into later years. There are many causes for late onset domestic violence, including stresses resulting from retirement, disability, shifting roles for family members and sexual changes. Older men and women are also more likely to experience domestic violence at this age if they enter a new relationship later in life.

What Does This Look Like?

In addition to the known symptoms of domestic abuse, frequent and more severe injuries, confusion and disassociation are characteristics of late onset domestic violence. Social workers, police and medical professionals find these elderly-specific indicators to be difficult to diagnose because they often occur in one form or another without the presence of domestic abuse.

Why Is It Underreported?

There are lots of reasons people don’t report abuse in their later years of life. Retirement and disability often render elderly individuals financially unstable and they may fear losing health care benefits or falling into poverty or homelessness. If they do rely on their partner for caretaking and support they may have fewer options after leaving.

Because of generational norms, some older women feel that speaking out about domestic violence would be “airing dirty laundry,” and prefer to keep their personal lives private. In addition, many individuals are anxious about leaving a partner late in life with the concern that they may spend the rest of their days alone.

How Can You Help Someone You Know?

Many domestic violence campaigns and services don’t address late onset domestic violence and instead focus mainly on people between 18 and 45 years old. This limits the availability of assistance older people. Fortunately, specific resources do exist. Adult Protective Services (APS) in all states serve abused older victims.

Do you know someone who may be experiencing abuse at the hand of their partner? Since there are unique reasons many older Americans don’t report abuse, speaking up if you notice red flags could be the support someone needs to begin to get help.

It’s never too late to reclaim your life, and we want to help. Call NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to chat with an advocate about the abuse — whether it’s happening to you personally, or to someone you know.

Further Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

She Couldn’t Do It Alone

This blog post was written by Christina Owens. We thank her for sharing her and her mother’s story to help other victims.

By the time I was six, I knew the drill all too well. There would be a little bit of yelling, things would be thrown about and Dad would strike Mom. She would cry and apologize and I would hide. That was my job, when things got ugly I was to be invisible and I had gotten incredibly good at it.

A few years later, it was important for me to be visible and to cry for help because the strongest woman I know was at her weakest moment in life. She was being choked and didn’t have a voice. I was afraid for her life and got help the only way I knew how – by dialling 9-1-1. The police came. They handcuffed Dad and put him in the police car – this wasn’t the first time they had been called to our house on account of domestic violence, but it was the first time that Mom’s friends decided that it was time to get involved.

They knew some of what went on at our house. They could hear it and they knew that the police had been to our house before. But they were never willing to talk to Mom about it. Maybe they didn’t know what they would say to her or maybe they felt as if it wasn’t their “place” to say anything. But one thing is certain: Mom couldn’t escape the abuse alone. Dad owned her. Her self-esteem was at an all time low and she really believed she was good for nothing. She was afraid to leave – afraid that would put her (and me) in more danger than just enduring the pain. He paid for everything we had and was financially responsible for us. And, above all else, she truly loved him. It would have been difficult for her to make it on her own and she didn’t know the first step in getting out safely.

She was never willing to press charges and, as a result, Dad never had to sit in jail for long. Mom’s closest friends were aware of this and went to work quickly. They reminded her of what she had and helped boost her confidence. They gave her the willpower she needed to change her thinking from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can.’ They told her that his behaviour was not okay and reminded her that she had a small child who was looking up to her as an example to life.

Mom cried. She didn’t want to continue living this way, but she didn’t know how to get out, she’d been living this way for so long that it had become the norm for her. Mom’s good friend offered to let us live at her house, at least for a while, until we could figure something else out. Her friends encouraged her to move – to get out. They promised her they’d hide our location from him.

They promised we wouldn’t be alone.

Her friends helped her pack up our whole lives into a few boxes and we escaped to another town. Mom was saving herself, she was saving me, and she was doing what she had to do. She is one of the strongest women I know.

I often think about how different life would have been for both of us had Mom’s friends not gotten involved. I suspect that Mom would have continued to repeat the Battered Wife Syndrome week after week, month after month and year after year. Mom couldn’t do it alone. She didn’t have the strength; she didn’t have the finances and she didn’t have the know-how. Domestic violence IS everybody’s issue. Many women don’t know the first step to take. They need a friend. A friend they can trust; a friend who is willing to help, willing to listen without blame.

Our new life would not have been possible without the help of Mom’s friends. Know your neighbors; know your friends. If someone is hurting your friend or family member, it IS your business. Get involved. Stop domestic violence NOW!

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.”