July 5, 2009

Domestic Violence Can Also Include Economic Abuse

From The Sacramento Bee: Domestic violence can also include economic abuse

By Anita Creamer acreamer@sacbee.com
Published: Saturday, Jul. 4, 2009 - 12:00 am Page 6B

Over time, the abuse escalated to what she describes as a terrifying degree. But as it slowly began, said Marsha Guyton, her then-husband insisted that they open a joint checking account.
"He said, 'We're married now, and I want us to feel that we're as one,' " said Guyton, an events coordinator for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. "So I closed my own account. He had access to all my money. And if he got mad, he'd pull it all out of the account. I'd use my ATM card, and the money wasn't there."

The little-publicized stepchild of domestic violence, economic abuse involves manipulating a partner by controlling his or her finances. Perpetrators' tactics can include forcing their partners to sign over their paychecks and purposely racking up debt to ruin victims' credit.

Not surprisingly, economic abuse is on the rise, fueled by the same family and financial difficulties that have led battered women's shelters in Sacramento and across the country to report a steep increase in calls for services. Even so, almost 70 percent of people responding to a recent national survey said they see no link between economic abuse and domestic violence.
"Most people haven't even heard of economic abuse," said Jennifer McGrath, spokeswoman for the Allstate Foundation Economics Against Abuse program, which commissioned the study. "When we tell them, people just sit back. It's their aha moment. It's so powerful.

"A lot of times, people will say, 'Why doesn't she just leave?' But if you've been forced to hand over your paycheck, how are you supposed to find a place to stay and put food on the table?"
Domestic violence experts have long recognized the powerful connection between money and abuse. For batterers, holding exclusive sway over the family finances can amount to another way of isolating and controlling their partners, one that leaves no visible bruises. But what exactly does that mean?

Guyton said that for her, it meant losing two jobs because her ex showed up at her workplace, threatening harm. For other women, said My Sister's House executive director Nilda Valmores, it means working to support their household while their unemployed partner squanders money on gambling, drugs and other women. "Economic abuse can involve having all the pressure," said Valmores, whose agency provides shelter to immigrant women. "The woman works and wears every hat possible, while the man acts like the king of the house."

Sometimes, abusers cancel credit cards or insurance policies without their partner's knowledge.
Still other victims end up losing their homes to foreclosure because their abusive partner refuses to make house payments, said Beth Hassett, executive director of Women Escaping a Violent Environment.

"We've got a couple of clients who are separated but having to live in the same house because they can't afford to leave," said Hassett. "So they're still under the same roof as their abuser.
"One thing I've never heard before – a couple of our clients have reported that their partner has destroyed their textbooks and schoolwork."

Limiting someone's education, after all, can mean limiting the ability to find work or receive promotions. Yet when the abuse is economic, victims often don't even realize it's happening, said WEAVE's development director Julie Bornhoeft. "There's a lot of conditioning to put a sense of responsibility on them," she said.

In Guyton's case, coming to terms with what was happening involved examining her religious upbringing. "I was taught that the man is in charge of the home and the finances," she said. "Don't ask him questions. He's the king of the home. You're there to help him and be submissive, especially in financial matters."

"If you don't have a pastor who's sensitive to women's issues, they won't want to hear your story. They'll say, 'Don't provoke him.' You don't know how many eggshells I walked on, and still you blame yourself."

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