By Bria Overs
Originally appeared in Word in Black
This story is part of “Love Don’t Live Here” Word In Black’s series about how domestic violence impacts our community and what we can do about it. Trigger Warning: These stories contain mention of domestic violence and abuse.
More than half of Black women have experienced intimate partner or domestic violence in their lifetimes. And more than half of Black men reported experiencing this violence — more than any other ethnic group — the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found.
Intimate partner abuse comes in many forms: emotional, verbal, physical, digital, sexual, and financial. In 2022, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported a “historic high contact volume.” Black victims accounted for 21% of their calls, chats, and texts last year.
Emotional, verbal, and physical were the top issues reported by victims. In a close fourth place was financial, or economic, abuse.
“Financial abuse, in plain terms, can look like not having control of money,” says Paméla Michelle Tate, co-executive director of operations and education at the San Francisco-based Black Women Revolt Against Domestic Violence Resource Center. “Be it your and your partner’s money, but not having control or access to money.”
Black Women Revolt is California’s first family violence resource center dedicated to helping Black women.
Tate says financial abuse as a control tactic occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. It can leave victims unable to support themselves, making it more difficult to leave the relationship and situation, according to the Hotline.
“Financial abuse is usually the precursor to other types of abuse,” she says.
Despite its prevalence, the behavior is insidious and can easily fly under the radar. But there are ways to spot it, get help, and recover from the impacts.
How to Identify Financial Abuse
Making decisions without both partner’s willing consent is the key to recognizing when financial abuse is happening.
“It can be an influencing tactic, like attempting to influence your decisions regarding money,” says Nashira Kayode, a Southern California-based licensed clinical social worker. “It can be the expectation that your resources are also their resources. That you will spend money on them, that you will give them money, that you will provide for them in some type of way you are not comfortable with.”
It also takes the form of a partner holding finances over the other, says Ashley Lowe-Simmons, a Columbus, Ohio-based licensed clinical social worker and certified financial social worker. She says an abuser may require you to get permission to spend your own money or exploit imbalances in financial or class status.
While some aspects of this abuse are hard to spot, there are clear red flags for identifying it. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, this can look like:
- “Withholding money or giving ‘an allowance,’
- Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns,
- Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts,
- Refusing to work or contribute to the family income,
- Stealing the victim’s identity, property, or inheritance,
- Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score,
- Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for ‘cheating or misusing benefits,’
- Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets.”
Because financial abuse is often covert, it could be considered normal relationship behavior to some. Tate says witnessing abuse or domestic violence while growing up can become a “model idea of a relationship.”
“This is who you have grown up emulating — our patterns come from our household and parents,” she says.
Finding Help for Financial Exploitation
Getting out of these situations is easier said than done, and that’s by the design of the abuser. Financial abuse creates dependency, and a lack of financial literacy and responsibility is one of a few ramifications. “It is a way to keep the person in the situation,” Nashira says.
Isolation is essential for getting away with this abuse, making it vital to seek help from local community resources or social communities.
Tate, Kayode, and Lowe-Simmons recommend victims seek out their local resource centers for help or to get started on leaving. Their other tips are:
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is open 24/7 at 1-800-799-732,
- Work with resource centers to create a safety plan, where financial resources may also be available,
- Create copies of important documents, like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and immunization records, if possible,
- Set up fraud alerts through one of the credit bureaus
- Use security measures on bank accounts like two-factor authentication
- Open a new bank account or close an old bank account
Decreasing domestic violence in the Black community, Lowe-Simmons says, requires increasing “awareness and education around healthy relationships, establishing boundaries, healthy communication, and social support.”
If you or someone you know is being affected by intimate partner violence, please consider making an anonymous, confidential call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Chat at http://thehotline.org | Text “START” to 88788. There are people waiting to help you heal 24/7/365.