It was hard for Rachel to recognize the signs at the beginning. Her husband, Avi, made seemingly innocuous comments such as, “I’m better at saving money so let’s put the funds in my account,” or “I’ll pay the bills so you don’t have to worry about them.” Then Avi started showing up at Rachel’s office and disrupting her work, or hiding her car keys so she would arrive late. He later refused to allow her to work at all. Rachel was given an allowance and had to account for every penny she spent.
Those all are signs of financial or economic abuse, which is present in 98 percent of domestic violence cases, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Economic abuse, according to Lisa G. Twerski, LCSW, is defined as “controlling the family income or limiting the spouse’s access to money to keep her dependent on the abuser, or to get his way.”
Examples can include causing a partner to lose their job through direct and indirect means; controlling financial assets and enforcing an allowance; damaging a partner’s credit score or canceling insurance or credit cards without the victim’s knowledge; or attempting to make the victim financially dependent.
As time goes on, the victim -- usually a woman -- realizes that she has no financial power and that she can’t leave because she has little or no access to money, or the abuser destroyed her financial security. Seven out of eight women who leave an abusive relationship will go back because of financial abuse, according to the Urban Resource Institute, which provides services to victims of domestic violence.
“No matter what philosophic views one might have, a fact of life is that a person cannot exist without the necessary means to obtain the necessities in life, and that means having money,” noted Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in The Shame Borne in Silence. “If a woman lacks the capacity to support herself, and is totally dependent on her husband for support, she has given him a powerful instrument for control.”
In a chapter on preparing for marriage and dealing with abuse, Rabbi Twerski urges women to learn a marketable skill so they can be independent and not have to rely on their husband, if abuse becomes manifest. “If the husband has no need to control and dominate, this economic dependence never becomes an issue,” he writes. “If this is not the case, but rather the husband has the need to control, and the wife has no way to be economically self-sufficient, the grounds are fertile for development of abuse. Young women will be well-advised to prepare themselves with a capability of earning.”
Financial abuse is a common form of domestic abuse, even if it’s not at all physical in nature, writes Lisa Twerski in I’m so Confused, Am I being Abused?
“Domestic abuse consists of a pattern of coercive control,” she says. “The confusion felt by a woman who is being abused often surrounds those times when there is no physical violence. There need not be physical violence present for it to be an abusive relationship, only for a woman to be afraid of escalating tactics should she fail to back down or comply with what the abuser’s expectation is at any given time. In an abusive relationship, there’s a general sense that you cannot freely make decisions or choices... While physical violence is one way an abuser might reinforce his spouse’s powerlessness, it is by no means the only way he can make his point.”
Anyone who thinks they may be a victim of financial abuse, or any form of domestic abuse, is urged to call the Shalom Task Force hotline, toll-free, at 888.883.2323 or 718.337.3700. Our confidential, anonymous hotline is open 24 hours a day, six days a week, and is staffed by a dedicated team of professionals who can help you.