What is financial abuse? Who controls the money?

What is financial abuse? Many doubt such a thing exists. After all, how can you abuse someone with money? Throw it at them? I think that’s considered a good thing, rather than bad. Financial abuse is an important element of domestic violence. Until I began acting as an advocate, taking courses, classes and attending conferences, I had no idea I had actually been a victim of financial abuse. Looking back, through my own experiences and those of others, I think I may be able to shed some light on the question:

 “What is financial abuse?”

Financial abuse is one partner controlling the other partner through finances. In my first marriage, I was the one who “held the checkbook.” It was my given responsibility to pay all the bills, purchase groceries and other such items, as well as clothing for the children, school lunches, etc. Not exactly abuse, is it? Well, let’s break it down. I was not given an option, and I was not joined by my husband in the oversight of our financial circumstances. If a bill was late being paid, I was verbally abused. The times our electricity was disconnected for a late payment—I received more verbal abuse, and even experienced a grabbed arm on occasion. Most importantly, if there were ever insufficient funds to purchase beer or cigarettes, I was told what a failure, loser and sorry wife I was. Lights shut off or buy beer? Sometimes the choice was between those two. What is financial abuse? One version: It is a partner lording themselves over the other partner, giving them false responsibility and holding them culpable if it doesn’t work out the way the abuser desires.

Financial abuse took an odd turn in my second marriage. I was still a total mess, dragging more luggage than a filled baggage car on an AmTrak train as a result of the previous years of domestic violence. Along came a gorgeous man eleven years my junior. He was attracted to me, and that got my attention. I was unaware of what a sociopath truly looked like. Then I lost my job, my home, my hope. He came along just in time to save me and help me raise my two children. I soon went to work, making a fairly good salary at a law firm and even setting him up in his own business, but my prior divorce had left my credit in shambles. He convinced me to put all my salary, along with child support checks received, into a checking account in his name only. That way no creditor could come after my income. He paid all the bills. I did not even know who or what we owed. Life had taken a sudden 180° turn. It went from bad to worse when the only clothes shop I was allowed to frequent was “La Yard de Sale.” He moved us, with my daughter, into a camp trailer—owned by his mother—in a park frequented by prostitutes, crack addicts and meth salesmen.

The time came when I was the only one working, and he was basically running a scam, claiming to be disabled and seeking social security disability. He explained that things had gotten so desperate, I was no longer allowed to buy lunches, but rather had to pack them. And, pantyhose became a very rare commodity. I was forced to continue wearing them with runs, because, “We just don’t have the money for such unnecessary things as that.” Imagine working at a law firm and not wearing hose in the 1980s? It was not fun. One day I came home from work to find the marital residence pretty much cleaned out. Furniture, televisions, money (that I earned!)—it was all gone. A note was sitting inside telling me he had gone to visit his father up north, and I must be packed and gone within “x” days. I had just given him my paycheck, and I only got paid once a month. Then I experienced a full-blown panic attack. In desperation I went to my mother. Thank God for parents. I had a teenage daughter to provide for, and no money, no home. I was haunted with him telling me often that I was probably going to end up behind a counter of a convenience store. My parents were in a position to give me the funds for a utility deposit, first and last month’s rent, some groceries and other essentials. They pretty much fed us every night that first month. It was a blessing to find an apartment just down from their home—the home where I was raised. My mother held a high position in county government, called upon some of her friends, and I was provided with legal representation. What is financial abuse? That was financial abuse.

Other victims have provided me with their stories, as well. Having money withheld, not being allowed to take a job outside the home, foregoing much needed medical treatment or medication because no money was made available to the victim, or working to put a husband through school only to be left behind with all the debt . . .  Dr. Ludy Green, seen on ABC’s Good Morning America, oversees the organization, Second Chance Employment Services, that helps victims of financial abuse. I strongly recommend that you visit her website. You will find valuable information available there.

Hopefully, this gives you a bit of an answer to the question: “What is financial abuse?” It’s real, and it is frightening. It, too, is a matter of power and control, just as in other forms of domestic/intimate partner abuse.

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