The Power of the Purse: Why Ending Economic Abuse is Vital to Eliminating Domestic Violence

By Jelena Kolic
Staff Attorney, Legal Momentum

As of late, Kerry Washington and her purple purse are inseparable. Those who think that she is favoring the purse because it goes well with her outfits should think again: far from making a fashion statement, Ms. Washington has been using it to foster public awareness of the fact that domestic violence comes in many forms and that economic abuse tends to be particularly prevalent. Having advocated for victims’ employment and housing rights for many years now, we couldn’t agree more with the message.

Although it’s not discussed nearly as frequently as physical abuse, the concept of economic abuse likely strikes a chord with all who have experienced, or know people who have experienced, domestic violence. In fact, researchers have long recognized economic abuse as one of the key features of abusive relationships. At its heart, economic abuse is about ensuring that the victim is too financially dependent to end the relationship through tactics that can run the gamut from physical to psychological abuse.

Some abusers may prevent victims from becoming or remaining employed by inflicting visible injuries that shame the victim out of going to work or a job fair; stealing car keys; making sure the victim doesn’t get the rest she needs the night before an interview; hiding victim’s work clothes; or, harassing the victim with incessant phone calls during office hours. Even when victims do manage to remain employed, they often have little access to their own incomes: abusers may demand that victims turn over their paychecks and credit cards or register their homes and cars in the abusers’, rather than their own, names.

The consequences of economic abuse can run the gamut as well. Many victims may lose their jobs or face evictions due to missed payments they couldn’t make because their abusers drained their bank accounts. Others may fail to qualify for public housing despite living in poverty because their credit scores are too low due to the debts their abusers caused them to generate. The final result is the same in every case: victims don’t end relationships because their financial dependence is too great to allow them to walk away.

The terrible reality of economic abuse makes clear that domestic violence can only be eliminated through comprehensive solutions that secure not just physical safety, but also the economic stability of the victim. Legal Momentum has long advocated for that stability through materials that educate victims about their employment rights, briefs that explain the importance of victims’ housing rights, and fact  sheets that encourage employers to implement workplace policies responsive to the needs of their victimized employees. The very tangible economic costs of domestic violence are often hidden, and it is crucial that we recognize them if we hope to eliminate the violence from victims’ lives.

The power of the purse is indeed vital. Let’s all work to make sure it’s placed in the right hands.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

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