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What Is Financial Abuse & How Can We Help Victims?

November 11, 2015

This post also appears on CFED

“Why don’t they just leave?”

This question is frequently asked of victims of domestic violence. One of the primary reasons victims remain trapped with an abusive partner is because they don’t have the financial resources to break free and stay free. It’s estimated that financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, and surveys of survivors reflect that concerns over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children were one of the main reasons for staying with or returning to an abusive partner. As with all forms of abuse, financial abuse occurs across all socioeconomic, educational and racial and ethnic groups.


Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. Whether subtle or overt, there are common methods that abusers use to gain and maintain financial control over their partners. These can include:

  • Forbidding the victim from working
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose their job by physically abusing the victim prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Controlling how household income is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not including the victim in financial decisions
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Forcing the victim to commit financial related crimes, such as writing bad checks or filing fraudulent tax returns
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds from the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Hiding assets
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victim’s credit score
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits and then threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating” or misusing benefits
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out, hiding or not disclosing assets.

The short- and long-term effects of financial abuse can be devastating. In the short term, access to assets is imperative to staying safe. Without assets, survivors are often unable to obtain safe and affordable housing or provide for themselves or their children. With realistic fears of homelessness, it is little wonder that survivors often return to abusive partners.



For those who manage to overcome initial hurdles to escape the abusive person, they often face overwhelming odds in obtaining long-term security and safety. Ruined credit scores, sporadic employment histories and legal issues caused by the abuser make it extremely difficult to gain financial independence.

It can be difficult for couples to navigate the complexities of family finances, and almost all couples have arguments about money. In financially healthy relationships, however, partners talk about their wants and needs and make choices about finances together. When one person strategically uses finances as a way to control their partner, that is abusive. Financial empowerment is imperative to survivors’ independence, well-being and success.

The Economic Justice project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) works to strengthen victim advocates’ financial capabilities to better assist survivors of domestic violence and help them move from short-term safety to long-term security and an economically sustainable independent life. We employ a signature “train-the-trainer” approach to deliver financial literacy lessons to victim advocates across the United States.

The road to economic empowerment for survivors is not easy or quick, but with the help of advocates and allies, we can ensure that survivors have the support and resources they need to be financially independent.

Learn more at

By: Kim Pentico, Economic Justice Director at NNEDV