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The Deadly Form of Abuse No One Is Talking About

The Deadly Form of Abuse No One Is Talking About

Dame Magazine
By Halley Bondy
December 16, 2019

Excerpt Below:

Trigger warning: True instances of psychological and physical domestic abuse.

When *Carmen’s husband, Frank, sensed she was thinking about leaving him, he made a decision. He told Carmen that she and their kids were cut off from his health insurance. Carmen had heart problems and battled breast cancer. Frank knew her pre-existing conditions would make her own insurance astronomically expensive. She begged him to keep her and the kids on his insurance plan, and offered to pay for her part of the premiums. He refused. Today, she’s not sure whether he will really take her off the insurance, or it was just a threat. She is afraid to ask him.

Carmen is now starting divorce proceedings, has primary custody of their kids, and is working regularly. In the meantime, the couple still shares a checking and savings account. Carmen says Frank regularly withdraws money for his own expenses and leaves around $60 in grocery money for the kids for the week.

Money wasn’t their only problem, but it held a tremendous amount of power. “It’s one of the reasons I didn’t leave for years. He made our debt my fault,” says Carmen. “Everything goes back to the original injury, the narcissistic injury…‘You’re spending too much’; ‘You’re not on my insurance because you left me’; ‘You took the kids from me.’ All roads lead to that place unless I agree to get back together. It’s all about punishing me.”

Carmen’s situation is not only common, but it points to a larger problem we don’t often talk about when examining domestic abuse cases: Financial abuse keeps victims trapped.

Despite its prevalence in these scenarios, very little data exists about domestic financial abuse. A 2008 Michigan State University study of 103 domestic abuse victims found that 99 percent of them suffered from financial abuse. A 2012 Rutgers University study found that 94 percent of 120 domestic abuse survivors suffered some type of financial abuse (also called economic abuse). The participants’ ethnicities spanned the gamut, and most of them were poor. Additional studies have found that there is an association between poverty and domestic abuse, but that poverty is not the cause or the sole factor. In fact, a different study found that women who earn 65 percent or more of household income are more likely to be targeted by psychological abusers.

Domestic abuse also occurs across racial lines. Out of female domestic violence victims surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control, 47.5 percent are American Indian/Alaska Native, 45.1 percent are non-Hispanic Black, 37.3 are non-Hispanic White, 34.4 percent are Hispanic, and 18.3 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander.

What all of these cases have in common is that financial abuse is omnipresent.

“I would like financial abuse to be talked about more,’” says Tarsha McCallum, senior director of shelters for Safe Horizon in the Bronx, New York. “It needs to be discussed so people can identify what’s happening to them. It happens to everyone.”

Financial abusers employ a wide range of tactics, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. These include stalking or harassing the victim at work, maxing out the victim’s credit cards, drawing out or manipulating divorce proceedings, hiding assets, forbidding a victim from working, stealing their paychecks, controlling all of the victim’s finances down to the penny, writing fraudulent checks in their name, and more. Often, the victim has been made financially dependent on the abuser, making it much harder to leave.

Domestic abuse also occurs across racial lines. Out of female domestic violence victims surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control, 47.5 percent are American Indian/Alaska Native, 45.1 percent are non-Hispanic Black, 37.3 are non-Hispanic White, 34.4 percent are Hispanic, and 18.3 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander.

What all of these cases have in common is that financial abuse is omnipresent.

“I would like financial abuse to be talked about more,’” says Tarsha McCallum, senior director of shelters for Safe Horizon in the Bronx, New York. “It needs to be discussed so people can identify what’s happening to them. It happens to everyone.”

Financial abusers employ a wide range of tactics, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. These include stalking or harassing the victim at work, maxing out the victim’s credit cards, drawing out or manipulating divorce proceedings, hiding assets, forbidding a victim from working, stealing their paychecks, controlling all of the victim’s finances down to the penny, writing fraudulent checks in their name, and more. Often, the victim has been made financially dependent on the abuser, making it much harder to leave.

“It’s a gradual process,” says McCallum, who works primarily with survivors who have few resources once they escape their abusers. “You may be in a relationship where someone is generous. Then later, you’re relying on that money, and they start to pull that money away. Then, they start to call you names. They say, ‘Here’s my money, you need me now.’ The abuser becomes more abusive.”

“Why don’t you just leave?”

Victims are often asked why they don’t leave abusive relationships. The truth is, leaving is often harder than staying. They are cut off from finances, and often the prospect of moving into a shelter, and uprooting their lives and those of their children, seems scarier to victims than staying with their abusers.

Victims are also psychologically trapped by prolonged effects of the abuse. It takes a victim on average seven attempts to leave an abuser before they finally do, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“While they’re being financially abused, they’re being psychologically abused,” says McCallum. “They believe they have nothing and will never be anything. If you hear that long enough, you’re going to believe it, especially because this person said they loved you, and at one time they treated you well.”

Shame is a powerful force that keeps victims stagnant. Shame from themselves, their families, and courts that will judge them, according to McCallum.

“The shame is that this person that I love is hurting me, and I still love him, or her, or my partner after they’ve been hurting me,” McCallum says. “I don’t want to tell anyone. I don’t want to look bad. I don’t want people to think I’m a bad parent.”

Also: leaving doesn’t stop the abuse. Abusers often retaliate. Gruelle described a case she worked in which a woman separated from her husband, and he proceeded to enter her garden every night to turn on her sprinkler spigots. The result was a $600 water bill for the victim.

Rebuilding from the rubble.

Victims who have no resources are encouraged to go to shelters and apply for public financial assistance. They might lean on Family Justice Centers or nonprofits to get back on their feet. But this process can be grueling.

“You have to find daycare … you have to find these resources, ask for help, be able to get the help, advocate for yourself,” McCallum said. “There are so many things that come with being independent that domestic survivors have to work through.”

The help financial abuse victims need varies by case. Some are more willing to start over, and learn new financial literacy skills, while others just need to pay their bills that month. The cycle of financial dependence is what keeps victims tethered to their abusers.

“They have to be tired and see a way out and want a way out in order to get out,” says McCallum, who shares some incredible success stories. One young immigrant was being financially abused by a boyfriend while she was working on her status. She got out, and is now a citizen. One disabled child had her benefits stolen by a physically abusive family member. She and her mother now have their own apartment.

All of the women quoted in this article got out. Carmen almost went to a shelter, but she was lucky to have a friend loan her money to sublet an apartment. She sees a very long road to divorce, but she said she’s ready.

“I thought getting on my feet was going to be quick,” said Carmen. “It’s a very slow process, and I accepted that.”

*All subjects’ names have been changed.

Read the original article here.

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