Breaking the chains of financial abuse: how to avoid being a victim and get on a path to empowerment.

Author:Tisdale, Stacey

BLACK ENTERPRISE WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE ALLSTATE FOUNDATION for connecting us with a victim of financial and domestic abuse, as we work to bring attention to this important issue. We would also like to thank the victim for being brave enough to share her story. Due to concerns for her safety, however, for the purposes of this article we will not reveal her identity, and we will refer to her as "Jane."

It started out like most mornings for working families. Jane got her four young children dressed and fed, then headed to the garage to get her car. What wasn't typical, however, was the fact that her husband was in the process of taking the car so that she couldn't go to work--a classic technique financial and physical abusers use to keep their victims financially dependent.

The American Institute on Domestic Violence finds that as many as 54% of victims of abuse miss work due to the actions of their abusers. Fifty-six percent have been late because of this issue, and 28% have had to leave early.

"When I saw what he was doing, I ran to the garage and shut the door so that he couldn't back the car out. He jumped out and opened it. I shut it. This went back and forth until he eventually threw an umbrella at my face," she says.

Jane didn't realize that her young children were watching. "My 8-year-old daughter was so horrified that she ran to the garage and punched a hole through the window in order to try and make us stop. He still wouldn't let me out. I called the police because my daughter needed medical attention. The police came and kept him calm long enough for me to get my kids and the car. Then they just left us alone. They didn't want to get involved."

Not only did the police fail to rescue Jane from her abusive husband, but she didn't feel able to rescue herself due to the family's dire financial situation.


Though the physical abuse was sporadic, financial abuse was constant in the relationship. Jane's husband exercised control through reckless spending, particularly on cars, that he knew she was too fearful to question.

"He bought more cars than we had money. In fact, in one year, he bought 13 cars," says Jane. "He'd buy older cars that cost between $500 and $2,000 on credit. He would sometimes trade them in, but we would have as many as four cars at one time. I did the budgeting. Every time he bought a car, I would have to try and fit it into the budget. The numbers didn't add up. In 2009, we even had to file for bankruptcy," says Jane.

"We were always robbing Peter to pay Paul. We would barely have enough to survive, and the next thing I knew, he would go and buy a car and really mess us up," she adds.

The Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, defines financial or economic abuse as controlling a person's ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources, and says it is "as common in battering relationships as physical and psychological abuse." Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Allstate Foundation found that 75%...

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