Would you know the signs of financial abuse if you saw them?
Financial abuse occurs when an abuser uses finances to control a victim. Financial abuse can occur in various situations, including dating, marriage, cohabitation, friendships, family members, and caregivers for the elderly or disabled. People who engage in financial abuse often try to hide their actions through lies and manipulation. Their behavior often includes illegal activities such as theft, fraud, deception, and other financial crimes.
Signs of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse can come in many forms. There are many ways an abuser can try to gain control of the family finances, some subtle and others overt. Financial abuse often begins subtly, slowly progressing over time. Often, people don’t realize they’re victims of financial abuse until it is too late.
Here are a few of the signs of financial abuse.
1. Does Someone Else “Take Care” of Your Finances?
Financial abuse occurs when one person controls the money or keeps another from accessing financial information.
An allowance is a common tactic to keep a victim dependent on the abuser. Some families rely on an “allowance” system to keep their budget on track, so how do you know if an allowance is a sign of abuse? In a non-abusive household, you and your partner may decide together to create an allowance situation to help you reach a specific financial goal. In this case, you likely have an equal say in how the allowance system will work and what you can spend on.
In an abusive relationship, you may answer yes to these questions:
- Do you have to stick to an allowance while your partner spends freely?
- Does your partner put parameters on what you can spend, where, and how you can spend?
- Does your partner limit your allowance based on “good” or “bad” behaviors?
- Does your partner make you do without essentials and necessities without making equal financial sacrifices?
2. Has Someone Else Tried to Sabotage Your Job?
Financial abuse can include employment sabotage, preventing victims from working or sabotaging their current employment. “Even though he wanted access to my finances, he would often lock me inside the room and sit outside the door to prevent me from leaving the house. I lost my job because of it,” recounts one abuse victim.
If your partner, friend, or family member is interfering with your ability to find or do your job or takes actions that could get you fired, that is employment sabotage.
3. Has Someone Else “Ruined” Your Finances, Possessions, or Credit?
Economic exploitation is the term used when an abuser destroys a victim’s financial resources or credit. Examples may include:
- Destroying the home, car, or other possessions of the individual
- Spending large amounts of joint money without consent
- Exploiting memory loss (from traumatic brain injury or dementia) to gain money
- Forcing the individual to apply for loans or a line of credit under the threat of further harm
- Pursuing expensive legal proceedings for divorce or child custody
4. Do You Feel Like You’re Coerced into Debt?
Coercion is the act of someone taking advantage of another person through threats, intimidation, or other forms of pressure. Abusers often coerce their partners into spending money on things like rent, utilities, groceries, and medical bills. They may be forced to sign over property ownership or open credit cards. Victims of coerced debt often find themselves with poor credit scores, mountains of debt, and even bankruptcies.
The Negative Effects of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse can have a wide range of negative consequences that stretch beyond one’s wallet or bank account.
- People who are victims of abuse are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.
- Survivors of domestic violence are more prone to suicide attempts and homelessness.
- Victims of domestic violence are more vulnerable to other forms of crime.
- Survivors of financial abuse are more likely to live in poverty.
- Survivors often feel trapped in abusive relationships, where they cannot afford to leave and/or live independently.
- A person who experiences financial abuse will often feel guilty, ashamed, angry, confused, and isolated.
Are You a Victim of Financial Abuse?
Most people don’t know what financial abuse looks like, so if you suspect you’re dealing with an abuser, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel safe around my partner/friend/family member?
- Am I afraid of them?
- Does he/she control me financially?
- Am I free to spend my money as I choose?
- Am I free to work and earn my own money?
- Do I have access to bank accounts and financial information?
- Am I carrying someone else’s debt?
Get Help for Financial Abuse
Financial abuse includes many forms of exploitation such as:
- Taking money or property without permission
- Using credit cards without permission
- Making threats against someone’s job or livelihood
- Refusing to pay bills
- Giving gifts or loans that aren’t repaid
- Being forced into prostitution, drug addiction, or other dangerous activities
If you think you’re experiencing financial abuse, seek help immediately. Call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1(800)799-SAFE (7233). You can also get help from a local shelter, call 911, and/or contact your local police department for assistance. Financial abuse may be a precursor to physical, mental, and emotional abuse, so don’t delay. If you feel financially controlled in your relationship, seek help and understand your options