Financial Abuse

(WOMENSENEWS)–Victims of domestic violence struggle with maintaining a stable job for up to two years after the abuse has ended, shows a study released in early 2009 by the National Institute of Justice, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. The data was based on a three-year study of 1,311 women on welfare in Illinois.

The Allstate Foundation’s Economics Against Abuse Program–which provides grants and aid to local programs that assist in education and job training for abuse victims–reported in June 2006 that 6 out of 10 Americans strongly agree that a lack of money and a steady income are often challenges faced by a survivor of domestic violence when leaving his or her abuser.

"We do believe that the economy is causing a rise in domestic violence and an increasing concern over economic abuse," said Kyle Donash, a communication consultant at the Allstate Foundation, a philanthropic branch of the Allstate Insurance Company based in Northbrook, IL.

In response, the Foundation launched the "Tell a Gal P.A.L" awareness campaign in October 2008, which focuses on raising awareness of domestic violence and financial abuse. The rise in domestic violence is evident, Donash says, as seen by studies released by the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Institute of Justice.

Solid Grounds for Divorce

Financial dependence is itself often a symptom of domestic abuse, which the Office on Violence Against Women, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, defines as "a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner."

While physical and sexual abuses are easy to prove and subject to criminal penalties, Gary P. Fields, a New York attorney specializing in family law, says economic abuse is not viewed or handled as seriously as other forms of domestic violence because there is no immediate threat to the victim’s health.

Even if charged with economic abuse, an abuser would only be forced to pay support to the victim, says Fields. He won’t be charged criminally, as is the case with other forms of domestic violence.

But Fields says financial abuse is a legal ground for divorce.

The outcomes of such cases, however, can be very "fact sensitive," he says.

For example, if the marriage was brief and the wife has a job, the government will not force the husband to pay support.

If the wife gave up her job to care for the children or was suffering health disabilities, the husband would typically be required to pay support to the wife and children.

Providing Assistance

If a woman is not able to receive financial support from her husband, however, she does not have to feel hopeless.

The Allstate Foundation’s Economics Against Abuse program, which it runs with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, gives grants to local and state coalitions for programs that assist female survivors financially. They also offer direct help through their Education and Job Training Assistance Fund, which provides survivors with small grants for things such as books, school supplies, certification fees, tuition, and job skills training.

Donash says that they chose to focus on economic abuse not only because they are a financially-based company, but also because it was a form of domestic violence that no one seemed to notice.

"People usually only think of the physical aspect, the physical bruises, no one thinks about the bruises on your credit," said Donash.

The Economics Against Abuse program is one of many programs across the country that offer help, financial support and job training to women who have been victims of domestic violence.

Other programs include the House of Ruth in Washington, D.C., which provides survivors of domestic abuse with housing, social services, education and job and skills training, so they can be self-sufficient. Safe Horizons in New York also provides programs and counseling in various ways–housing assistance, medical aid and job-readiness courses to help survivors feel more financially self-reliant.

To find your local domestic violence help program contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Kayla Hutzler, a journalism major at Manhattan College, is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews.