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Understanding What Economic Justice Means To Survivors

August 6, 2018

Survivors of domestic violence experience increased economic barriers. (“Economic barriers” constrain survivors from using or accessing financial resources.) It is important to recognize some of the major concerns that some survivors may have while seeking financial stability when trying to start over after experiencing financial abuse within the context of domestic violence.

Each survivor’s experience is different, but because 99 percent of all survivors experience financial abuse,[1]  the journey toward economic stability can be challenging. Financial abuse can result in damaged work histories, ruined credit scores, homelessness, and, sometimes, abject poverty. This makes it hard to leave an abusive partner and, for those who do make the difficult decision to leave, the financial damage can last for years.

Through our Economic Justice project, we strengthen advocates’ financial capabilities to better assist survivors of domestic violence in moving from short-term safety to long-term security, and provide survivors with the tools they need to empower themselves to live an economically sustainable life.

Learn more about how financial abuse and economic barriers can impact a survivor through the following stories:

Alex* left their partner after experiencing domestic violence. They sought assistance from a domestic violence advocate in order to safely move into a new home because their partner secretly maxed out two new credit cards in Alex’s name. Alex is also seeking full-time employment because their partner forced them to quit working and interfered with their ability to get a new job.

With the help of an advocate at her local domestic violence program, Celia* left her partner after experiencing domestic violence. Celia is trying to start over with her two children, but her partner secretly drained their joint bank account. Celia has a full-time job as an office manager but experiences several economic barriers as she navigates her safety and independence.

Affordable Housing

Alex’s credit score has been ruined by the two unpaid maxed-out credit cards. Alex struggled to find affordable housing that would accept their application with a low credit score. Working with an advocate, Alex secured a credit-building micro-loan through NNEDV’s Independence Project to ensure that other financial resources would not be out of reach. Alex’s advocate secured funds for a security deposit and helped Alex secure a safe apartment.

Alex is not alone: 44 percent of the cities in a nationwide survey identified domestic violence as the primary cause of homelessness,[2] and lack of safe and affordable housing is often reported as one of the primary barriers survivors of domestic violence face when they choose to leave an abusive partner.[3] The intersection of domestic violence, homelessness, and housing insecurity is undeniable.

Workplace Policies

Celia needed to take some time off work to meet with her lawyer and go to court for custody hearings, but her job did not allow employees to take Safe Days, which is flexible time off of work to have protections put in place to increase physical, emotional, and financial safety. Celia took time off to go to court and was subsequently fired because her job did not allow time off for safe days.

Currently, only seventeen states require employers to provide paid leave to survivors for necessities like going to court or to the doctor, which means millions of survivors could be fired if they have to miss work to take an abuser to court.[4] Legislative fixes like the passage of the SAFE Act are steps that would help ensure that survivors aren’t trapped with abusive partners for financial reasons.

Healthcare

Without healthcare from their employer, Alex finds it difficult to access needed healthcare services. Alex has been forced to go without necessary mental health services following the abuse and without the medications that their primary care doctor prescribed for physical injuries sustained from abuse.

Survivors need a range of physical and mental health services, including preventive care, in order to heal and thrive. Physical health consequences of domestic violence can include injury, gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, sleeping and eating disorders, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS, miscarriage, and unwanted pregnancies. Psychological affects due to abuse can include depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, lowered self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and drug misuse.[5] Continuous advocacy to ensure survivors have accessible healthcare is a priority at NNEDV.

Predatory Lending

To cover lost wages and pay rent, Celia was forced to take out a payday loan with 300 percent interest. When Celia attempted to use her account to pay off the loan, it came back with insufficient funds because her partner had drained the account. Celia talked through suing her former partner with her advocate, but decided that it was safer not to. Now, Celia is stuck with both overdraft fees and the loan repayment.

Predatory lending promotes an endless cycle of debt for vulnerable groups, including survivors of domestic violence. Unfair practices like payday loans, deposit advances, and other forms of predatory lending can undermine the financial stability of borrowers. Payday lenders will often withdraw funds from a borrower’s account without their knowledge. Twenty-seven percent of borrowers who accessed payday loans have over-drafted bank accounts.[6]

Identity Safety & Protection

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reached out to Alex because their credit card was flagged due to fraudulent charges from their former partner. Alex, their advocate, and the CFPB looked up legal information on identity theft on WomensLaw.org and reached out to the WomensLaw Email Hotline with additional questions. They worked together to fight the case. Alex saved thousands of dollars and years of trying to dig out of fraudulent credit card debt with help from the CFPB, WomensLaw, and Alex’s advocate.

Fourteen percent of survivors are victims of identity theft and an astonishing 24 percent of victims of identity theft indicate that they know the thief as a family member, friend, or spouse/ex-spouse.[7] Many financial institutions like the CFPB have made efforts to work with credit agencies to help prevent financial abuse practices and address cases of identity theft.

While families can sometimes provide some support through a survivor’s journey after leaving an abusive partner, survivors often face frustration due to the increased financial burden and economic barriers that they face. While Alex and Celia and her two kids are now safe, they continue to face the lasting effects of abuse. When survivors have stable access to resources that help them build economic resiliency, they are more likely to remain safe and secure.

Learn more about our work to promote economic justice for survivors:

*Names and stories have been changed to protect privacy and confidentiality.


[1] Adams, Adrienne E. “Measuring the Effects of Domestic Violence on Women’s Financial Well-being.,” CFS Research Brief 2011-5.6.

[2] The United States Conference of Mayors, “A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities,” 1999, p. 39. https://endhomelessness.atavist.com/mayorsreport2016.

[3] NNEDV, “Domestic Violence Counts: 12th Annual Census Report,” https://nnedv.org/content/domestic-violence-counts-12th-annual-census-report/.

[4] Clark, Meredith. “This Bill Takes On An Often Overlooked Risk of Domestic Abuse,” October 2015. www.refinery29.com/2015/10/96407/patty-murray-safe-act.

[5] Corrine Munoz-Plaza & Jean Capps, The Beacon Program. “Planning and Implementing Response Programs in Healthcare Settings,” 2001, p. 6.

[6] Peterson, Alyssa. “Predatory Payday Lending and How to Stop it,” Center for American Progress. August 2013. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2013/08/20/72591/predatory-payday-lending/

[7]Identity Theft Resource Center, “Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2009,” 2010, p. 3. http://www.idtheftcenter.org/artman2/uploads/1/ Aftermath_2009_20100520.pdf