Women Breaking Free

Women Breaking Free:
Stories of Strength from Survivors of Domestic Violence

A video series featuring Suze Orman, author, Women & Money

Funded by

Standing in Their Power

Released in time for October Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Suze Orman, Emmy Award-winning television host, motivational speaker and author, sits down with survivors of domestic violence to talk about one of the least discussed forms of abuse, financial abuse. In this seven part video series, we hear from incredibly brave women who share intimate details of abuse with the hope that by sharing their experience they will help change someone else’s life.  Orman, author of Women & Money, provides advice and insights that will help all women become strong, smart and secure.

The series of 10 – 14 minute videos is designed to raise awareness of the signs of financial abuse for both victims, as well as friends and family members of victims, and to provide tips to overcome it. Financial abuse can have the most devastating and long-lasting impact on the lives of survivors and their families. You’ll hear stories that include abusers who control their partner’s spending habits, preventing a partner from accessing bank accounts and keeping a partner from having a credit card.

You will feel inspired by the women’s courage and strength as they share stories of their abusive relationships and how they broke free.  The series was produced by The Hotline, with funding from the Avon Foundation for Women and Avon.  #WomenBreakingFree

Remember, each type of abuse is serious, and no one deserves to experience abuse of any kind, for any reason. If you have concerns about what’s happening in your relationship, contact us. We’re here to listen and support you!

Special thanks Urban Resource Institute of NY for their partnership in the production of this series.

Warning: Some of the stories shared in these videos could be disturbing to hear.

Ayanna is a 34-year-old college student and mother of two daughters who found relief from an emotionally, physically, and financially abusive partner at a local domestic violence organization, the Urban Resource Institute of NYC. While living in a shelter, Ayanna became independent and now takes care of herself and her daughters through her job as a home health aide.

Ayanna experienced abuse at a very young age. At 15 she was living on the streets and in a relationship with a man who became the father of her first daughter. She immediately became financially dependent on him. At first, he would buy things for her, but then would withhold them. She needed him not just for companionship, but financially to help her with money to get to and from work, school, appointments, and transportation. She spent time between different homes, then a shelter because of her lack of financial stability. She worked part-time and took college courses, but it wasn’t enough to support herself and her child. She couldn’t go to class sometimes, because he would withhold money from her when she was acting strong, argumentative, or assertive.

Ayanna eventually left.  At the age of 27, she met her second child’s father who was verbally abusive. He left her when she was five months pregnant.

Ayanna’s advice for women: Always put God first because only He makes the plan.  My key takeaway is be honest with yourself, love yourself, be happy with what you have and do right by your children, and you will live an amazing life. Make saving your money and educating yourself about money a top priority. Learn how to make it grow, so you can be financially successful.

Rhonda is a 62-year-old AVON representative who is a mother and wife who divorced an abusive husband of 23 years. She has now been married to a “good man” for the past 16 years.

In her prior marriage she experienced emotional, verbal, financial, physical, and sexual abuse. During this time she was in control of the finances at first, but was made to feel that there was never enough money for her to buy things she needed or wanted. He spent money on himself and on his hobbies like classic cars and hunting dogs. He was a pastor and youth leader, she was his helper. He received a salary for his work however she did not. She says even though people thought they had a perfect marriage, she says the physical abuse started right away. At first it wasn’t intense, but it gradually got worse. He beat her and told her he would kill her parents.

They got counseling and he stopped physically abusing her but the emotional, verbal and financial abuse continued until their divorce when he closed all of their accounts and credit cards and told her she had two weeks to get out.  During the marriage and when she started AVON, he belittled her and said that she was never going to make it, would never make any money at it and that she was spending all of HIS money on AVON. None of this was true.

She says he forced her to have sex with him every day. When she didn’t want to, he accused her of cheating. At one point he held a gun to her head and cocked it. She felt she was always walking on eggshells around him.

She stayed in this abusive marriage much longer than she should have, she says, because she believed in marriage and had a strong Christian background. She was also living in the “Bible belt” where divorce is frowned upon. Today, she is doing very well living the life of her dreams through her work with Avon.

Rhonda’s piece of advice for women:  Be aware of what is happening to you. Be prepared. Don’t get in a situation where you can’t take care of yourself.

Leslie is a 40-year-old successful professional working as an Avon representative and managing a team of 900 members. She first experienced emotional, verbal, physical, and financial abuse when she met a man who, unbeknownst to her in the beginning of their relationship was much older than she, he was 39 and she was 24. She says he made her feel protected, but now he is serving a lifelong prison sentence.

On their very first date, he caused a scene in a restaurant that got them kicked out and it embarrassed her. Still, she was not concerned because he was handsome, exciting, worldly, and charismatic. He told her she could have anything she wanted. After a few months, it got very serious and he wanted to get married. For the next six to eight months, he was in high demand at his job, but then he lost his car and had to borrow her car. He started doing drugs. She worked at the Red Cross and knew her job was in jeopardy if they ever found out she was around drugs. He then tried to pull her into criminal activities, by casing ATM’s and talking about robbing them and telling her, “This is what we’re going to do.” He stole her money and one day, while she was at work, he moved into her home but never contributed to the bills. She told herself, “This is not me,” but I didn’t know how to say no to him.

Soon, he started calling her stupid. He then hit her. He accused her of cheating on him. Slowly, she noticed her friends weren’t calling her back. People didn’t want to be around her. She knew he was overprotective, but she thought it was because he loved her. After a terrible breakup and six months of harassment, she was finally able to break free. Later, she found out he’d been arrested for murdering his friend.

Leslie’s advice for women: Look for red flags such as your partner being too overprotective, getting too serious too quickly, or being flashy with money. Look for inconsistencies in what they are saying about themselves and key facts about their life. Listen to your inner voice and make sure you can support yourself.

Vikki Mae is recently divorced from her ex-husband who she says emotionally and financially abused her soon after marrying him following their five year affair together. She was 17 when she met him. He was her boss. She says she fell deeply for the way he took care of her and the lifestyle he lavished on her. In July, 2017, however, it became obvious to her after attending a conference and listening to speakers from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, that what she had been experiencing for more than 20 years was emotional, verbal, and financial abuse.

She reached out to The Hotline to find out how she could support the organization and inspire other women to break free by telling her story. In this video, Vikki Mae details how she felt when her husband constantly belittled her and kept her from working for anyone else, even when they had no money. She says he refused to give her money to pay for necessities such as utilities and food that he demanded be the freshest, highest quality. She says he was always threatening to leave her and divorce her, made her say, “yes sir” and “please” and planted seeds of doubt by telling her “you won’t be what you could be without me.”  She knew she didn’t like the way she was treated, but had no one to help her understand his fits, outbursts, verbal abuse, bullying, condescending, and controlling behavior. Learning it was abuse, she could no longer tolerate it and “enough was enough.”

Vikki Mae has a message in a new book she has authored: IF I CAN – YOU CAN! She says look for red flags such as your partner being domineering, limiting access to family and friends, and keeping you in the dark about finances. Stand up for yourself by first acknowledging to yourself it isn’t your fault.  Recognize your true value and worth as a human being deserving of respect and fair treatment.  Love yourself for who you are right now, exercise your voice, draw on your inner strength and resilience!

Tiffany is a 28-year-old professional and proud mother of two young children. She experienced emotional, sexual, verbal, and financial abuse by her now ex-husband soon after they moved in together. Tiffany is an immigrant and was working and living in the U.S. While she waited for her green card, she made just under $100.00 a week. Immediately, she realized he wanted to control everything including the small amount of money she made.  She found new employment and was bringing in a high income. He placed her paychecks in their joint account and then denied her access to it and he spent the money. He took her money to pay child support to his previous wife. When she would ask for her money, he threatened her with deportation.

When her son was born, she started hiding money from her husband and planned for her escape. Unfortunately, he found the money and when he did he ripped off her clothes and left her without money to even buy milk for their child. When she left, she had no money and no support. She slept in her car with her children and eventually sold it to pay for life sustaining expenses. Today, she has broken free from his physical, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse and she is doing well and taking care of her children while going to school and working.

Tiffany’s advice for women: Keep some of your money to yourself – it is your right. Abuse is not love. You may think you can’t start over, but you can and you will. She says believe you are strong, beautiful, and that you deserve better.

Lisselot is a 32-year-old professional woman who is a native of the Dominican Republic and a mother to a young daughter. Before leaving her husband in the middle of the night with nothing but her daughter and the clothes on their backs, she says her husband abused her emotionally, verbally, financially, and physically. She made significant money through her job and saved it for their future, but she says when she had their daughter, he told her to resign and assured her he would take care of the bills and not to worry. He gambled away their savings. She had to borrow money to buy groceries, diapers for her baby, and to pay their phone bill. When she asked for money, he hit her. He told her daily that she was fat and ugly, threatened that despite her resident status he would have her deported. He threatened to kill her before she would be able to leave him. When she did try to leave, he hit her hard with a belt, even though the baby was in her arms.

It became physical, he hit me so hard with a belt, with the baby in his arms. She was scared for her child. She ended up going to a shelter that night and received support from New York’s Urban Resource Institute. When people ask why she stayed, she says that despite the physical, emotional, and financial abuse, she thought he would change. He came from a dysfunctional family and she made it her life’s mission to support him and try to understand him. Eventually, she had to get a protection order.

She is looking for her dream job in the social service field, assisting domestic violence survivors. She wants to motivate, counsel, inspire, advocate, and help others.

Lisselot’s piece of advice for women: Know the warning signs of domestic violence. She says abuse starts simple with your partner telling you what to wear and criticizing everything you do, making you feel not good enough. The abuser lowers your self-esteem. She says do not stay in a toxic relationship thinking you can change your abuser’s behavior, assuming it is your responsibility. Finally, be strong enough to speak out and ask for help.

Shaundre’ is a 37-year-old Avon representative, nurse, mother, and survivor who experienced emotional, verbal, and financial abuse by her husband. She tells Suze that her abuser stole money from her, took out loans in her name, refused her access to their joint account and moved her and her son to a city where she knew no one and then left them. Shaundre’ grew up in a family where her stepfather abused and eventually killed her mother in front of her and her three younger siblings. He also sexually abused her starting at age 5. She saw her mother financially, physically, and verbally abused her whole life.

When Shaundre’ reached her mid-20’s, she reconnected with a friend she’d known since they were children and their families knew each other. At this time, Shaundre’ owned her own home, had a medical assistant degree, and was raising her young son as a single parent. She was looking for an equal. She says he was in the military, he was charming and he bought her nice things.  As early as their honeymoon, however, she says he started stealing money from her. As a military wife of an enlisted man, she had no entitlement to his allotment. Soon, he was draining their accounts, maxing out credit cards, securing loans and listed her as a co-borrower on loans she never had access to. Her credit suffered and she ended up with no money. The home she once owned as a single woman went into foreclosure.

It took her years to get a divorce and today she doesn’t know where he is, but believes he’s stationed overseas.  She says the bill collectors still call her and that being married to him created a domino effect of financial disaster.  She now has a foreclosure on her record, bad credit, and no ability to buy a home, something she dreams of for herself and her son.

Shaundre’s advice for women: Ask questions. Understand your partner’s financial situation. Don’t co-sign for loans. Knowledge is power. Protect yourself. Have your own money. Have a support system. If something seems out of the ordinary, pay attention, and don’t make excuses for them. Pray about it.


Over the next six days we’ll be posting a new video each day, so make sure to check back for the next one!


About Suze Orman
Suze Orman has been called “a force in the world of personal finance” and a “one-woman financial advice powerhouse” by USA Today. She is a two-time Emmy Award-winning television host and one of the top motivational speakers in the world today.

The single most successful fundraiser in the history of PBS, Orman has received an unprecedented eight Gracie awards, which recognize the nation’s best radio, television, and cable programming by, for, and about women. Twice named to the Time 100 and ranked among the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes, Orman was the host of The Suze Orman Show on CNBC for 13 years and a contributing editor to O: The Oprah Magazine for sixteen. She recently released her updated and revised best-seller, Women & Money and is currently a contributing editor to The Costco Connection and the host of the Women & Money podcast.

In 2016, Orman was appointed as the official personal-finance educator for the United States Army and Army Reserve. She also serves as a Special Advocate for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, bringing her message of awareness and empowerment to women who have suffered financial abuse. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Illinois and at the age of 30 was still a waitress making $400 a month.

In recognition of her revolutionary contribution to the way Americans think about personal finance, she has received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Illinois and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Illinois and an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree from Bentley University. She has also received the National Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign. Visit suzeorman.com and follow her on Facebook.com/suzeorman and on Twitter: @SuzeOrmanShow.

About New Avon
New Avon LLC (“Avon”) is the leading social selling beauty company in North America, with independent sales Representatives throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. Avon’s portfolio includes award-winning skincare, color cosmetics, fragrance, personal care and health and wellness products featuring brands such as ANEWAvon True ColorEspira, and Skin So Soft, as well as fashion and accessories.  Avon has a 130-year history of empowering women through economic opportunity, and supporting the causes that matter most to women. Avon philanthropy has contributed over $1 billion globally toward eradicating breast cancer and domestic violence. Learn more about Avon and its products at www.avon.com.

About the Avon Foundation for Women
The Avon Foundation for Women is committed to supporting issues that matter most to women. Since its inception in 1955, the Avon Foundation has promoted or aided charitable, scientific, educational, and humanitarian activities, with a special emphasis on activities that improve the lives of women and their families. Through 2017, Avon and the Avon Foundation for Women have contributed over $1 billion in over 50 countries to support its efforts to eradicate breast cancer and to help end violence against women and girls worldwide. Today, Avon global cause programs focus on breast health awareness and prevention through the Avon Breast Cancer Promise, and to help end violence through the Avon Promise to Help End Violence Against Women and Girls. Visit www.avonfoundation.org for more information.

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