YOUR MONEY: Programs empower women affected by economic abuseIn domestic-abuse situations, abusers use money or finances to prevent victims from leaving. Advocates of domestic violence victims are concerned that the difficult economy could lead to more cases of financial abuse — especially if the abuser is out of work, too.
By: Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press
In domestic-abuse situations, abusers use money or finances to prevent victims from leaving. Advocates of domestic violence victims are concerned that the difficult economy could lead to more cases of financial abuse — especially if the abuser is out of work, too.
Economic abuse can involve an abuser preventing a person from getting a job. Or cashing the family's income tax refund check and spending the money before paying bills. Or degrading someone by saying he or she is too stupid to manage a checking account. Or harassing a partner at work via phone calls, text messages or e-mail so frequent that the person loses a job.
These are some other forms of economic abuse:
—Taking money, credit cards or property from a partner without permission.
—Racking up debt without a partner's knowledge.
—Being forced by a partner to hand over paychecks.
Some abusers even have opened credit cards in their spouse's or partner's name and ruined their credit. It's tougher to get an apartment or a job with a bad credit score.
Being cut off from money—or the ability to make money—creates lasting scars, said Jennifer Kuhn, manager of the Economics Against Abuse Program at the Allstate Foundation in Wauconda, Ill.
Kuhn, whose career involved working as a criminal prosecutor specializing in domestic-violence cases in Chicago, recalled a woman who received student loans. Her abuser cashed the financial aid checks and spent the money.
"She wasn't able to go to school. She wasn't able to pay back the loans," Kuhn said.
DON'T DESPAIR; HELP IS AVAILABLE
The Allstate Foundation, in partnership with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, has developed a financial empowerment curriculum. See www.ClickToEmpower.org.
Kalyn Risker, founder of Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment, serves as a special consultant to the Survivors' Giving Circle project, which includes a job-readiness program and the Moving Ahead Through Money Management curriculum.
Risker, 37, launched her nonprofit in 2006 with a low-budget approach.
"Someone let me speak in a basement somewhere about it, I'd speak," said Risker, who is the founder, executive director and the only person on the staff of the Detroit-based nonprofit. See www.NewSafeStart.org or call 800-757-4919.
Risker explained how, when she was in her 20s, her boyfriend frequently made her late for work. She had so many problems that she had to quit the one part-time job that offered health coverage—shortly before she was beaten until her eye socket required reconstructive surgery.
One of the first steps, she said, is to understand when economic abuse is taking place.
"A woman might feel like all of these other things are going on, but he's not hitting me."
Financial tips for victims and survivors of domestic violence
—Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 to learn about affordable housing, emergency assistance funds or utility or rent assistance.
—Watch your credit report to see whether anyone has opened credit in your name. For a free annual credit report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. You can also contact the three credit bureaus (but there may be a fee for the report): Equifax, 800-685-1111; Experian, 888-397-3742, or TransUnion, 800-916-8800.
—Open a post office box for mail and any financial information you may receive. Do this before you leave the abusive situation or immediately after you leave.
—Call your utility companies, wireless telephone service and financial institutions to secure your private financial information with special PIN codes and passwords. Ask these companies to use identifiers other than your Social Security number, date of birth or mother's maiden name to authenticate your identity.
—Change all ATM and debit card PIN codes, online banking passwords and online investing passwords. Change the password on your e-mail account.
—Change insurance plans, will or trust beneficiaries to appoint a new person if your partner is your current designee.