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Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships and is the number one reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships.

Yet, 78% of Americans don’t recognize financial abuse as domestic violence.

What is financial/economic abuse and what does it look like?

Financial/economic abuse is when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s ability to access, acquire, use or maintain economic resources, which diminishes the victim’s capacity to support themselves and forces intentioned dependence. Economic abuse is cited as the main reason victims stay or return to abusive relationships. 

Common Tactics of Financial Abuse

Preventing survivors from using their financial resources

  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not allowing the survivor to have access to bank accounts
  • Hiding or lying about joint assets
  • Lack or access to utilities (including phone/internet)
  • Lack of control over household finances or how money is spent
  • Lack of knowledge of household finances and financial decisions
  • Lack of ownership and/or access to a vehicle/transportation
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support

Preventing survivors from obtaining/maintaining employment

  • Forbidding the survivor to work outside the home
  • Stalking or harassing the survivor at the workplace
  • Causing the survivor to lose their job by physically battering them prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Forcing the survivor to be late, or miss or leave work
  • Sabotaging the car so there is no mode of transportation
  • Forbidding the survivor from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Interfering with their partner’s attempts to further their education

Exploiting survivors’ resources to limit their financial and life options

  • Forcing the survivor to sign financial documents, or forging their partner’s signature
  • Forcing the survivor to write bad checks or file fraudulent legal financial documents
  • Pressuring the survivor to be a co-signor or guarantor
  • Coerced debt/forced to overspend on credit cards
  • Personal information or assets used against their will or without their knowledge
  • Converting their partner’s assets into their own
  • Keeping all assets in the abuser’s name, while forcing victim to keep all debt in their name only
  • May refuse to make rent, mortgage or utility payments

If you recognize these tactics in your own relationship, help is available at your local domestic violence program.

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Understanding Survivors

Why don’t they just leave? Too often we hear this question asked of victims of domestic abuse. While the answers to this question are nuanced and unique to every individual victim’s situation, the number one reason cited by victims for why they stay in or return to an abusive relationship is because of financial abuse.

Experience the victim’s journey

Imagine you moved in with your partner in your early 20s. This partner began isolating you from family, friends and coworkers as part of their emotional abuse. After having kids, your abusive partner insists that you are no longer “allowed” to have a job. You become further isolated with no personal or professional network. The job skills you did have start to become irrelevant as the gap in your work experience becomes wider and wider. You don’t have your own savings or retirement accounts. Your checking and credit card (if you have any credit at this point) are controlled by your abusive partner. You can forget about going back to school or obtaining job training. When you finally work up the courage to even think about leaving, you are faced with the reality that you have no money, destroyed credit, no other place to live, no job and no skills to get a job. Where would you even start? How would you leave?

Impact of Financial Abuse on Communities

The CDC has indicated that domestic violence is our nation’s number one public health issue with devastating physical, emotional, financial and societal consequences, affecting over 10 million men and women every year. The impacts of financial abuse are devastating not just for the victims and survivors themselves, but also for their communities and for society at large.

Victims of financial abuse lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year. The lack of paid sick days or other job protections prevents survivors from taking time off work to recover from injury, seek safety, or pursue a court case.

Survivors lose nearly $53,000 in lost wages over their lifetime. The estimated overall workplace productivity costs are $1.3 trillion.

Effects of Financial Abuse on Domestic Violence Victims

  • 59% credit was harmed by their abuser

  • 70% were not able to have a job

  • 53% lost a job due to their abuser

PCADV’s Response to Financial Abuse

PCADV’s Economic Justice and Empowerment Initiative was created to address the impacts of financial abuse. It is a statewide effort, implemented in community-based domestic violence programs, that helps domestic violence victims overcome immediate economic barriers and secure long-term financial independence and safety.   

About the initiative