PART I: While any number of barriers may discourage victims of domestic violence from leaving their abusers, survivors frequently cite FINANCIAL ISSUES as a primary roadblock. Abusive partners who control and manipulate household finances and victims who lack access to financial resources contribute significantly to the latters' inability or reluctance to leave. A 2012 survey by Mary Kay, Inc. found that 74% of survivors remained in abusive relationships longer than they wanted to because of financial concerns. And according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. As with any form of domestic violence, financial abuse happens across all socioeconomic, educational, racial, ethnic and gender groups.
Abusers often control their partners by denying them both financial resources and the means to become financially independent. An abuser may bar access to family income, require justification for all money spent, forbid the victim to work or pursue educational or training opportunities, sabotage the victim's employment, hide assets, run up debt in the victim's name, and damage or ruin the victim's credit history.
Furthermore, because they don't manage the household finances, victims often have no idea that an abuser has, for example, failed to pay credit card bills listed in both their names, taken out a second mortgage, or used the victim's identity to secure a loan. They have no idea, that is, until they attempt to leave the relationship and find themselves not only without resources and perhaps a place to live, but also saddled with debt.
Unraveling the web of lies, debt, ruined credit, and even identity theft, in which abusers have enmeshed their victims is a painstaking process that requires patience, persistence and persuasion. It's also a task that might require hiring a lawyer or financial expert at great expense. At DVCC, an advocate provides that service at no cost, and even though it is a complicated and time-consuming process, she makes it sound relatively easy.
"You just ask for things all the time that you don't usually ask for from people who don't normally deal with victims of domestic violence," said Meaghan Dwyer, Coordinator of SustainAbilityCT, DVCC's initiative focused on economic solutions that drive employment, education and housing. The goal of SustainAbilityCT (iACT) is to help clients develop ways to deal with the complex financial and safety challenges of ending a relationship with an abusive partner, as well as provide them with access to information and skills that foster permanent and sustainable independence.
To help clients, Dwyer has negotiated with auto loan, insurance, cell phone, storage, and moving companies; banks; landlords; employers; collection agencies; housing providers; and more. Each conversation requires detailed explanations about the client's circumstances, how an abusive partner has created the problem, and what the company, bank, etc. can do to help alleviate the situation. In one instance, a bank agreed to renegotiate a mortgage and reduce the client's payments. In another, EZ Pass charges and parking violations were forgiven. And one time, a group of movers charged nothing to transport a client's belongings to a storage company, which, in turn, provided free storage. Those are just a very few examples of countless negotiations on behalf of clients, most of which have had positive outcomes.
Once Dwyer has helped clients analyze their financial and housing needs, she then provides them with a wide variety of tools that will assist them in their quest for financial independence. One-on-one assistance and group workshops offer information on budgeting, banking, resume building, interview techniques and job searches.
SustainAbilityCT is a true empowerment program, whereby, over the past year, more than 500 clients have been able to take control of their finances, create budgets, find and maintain employment, and improve and stabilize their housing situations. The seemingly small, day-to-day victories they have been able to achieve are, in actuality, major steps towards building confidence, self-assurance and control over their lives.
PART II will cover SustainAbilityCT economic impact workshops and housing initiatives.