Finding Courage and Hope: Financial Support for Women Experiencing Domestic Violence
Jamie R. Wright
Domestic violence or intimate partner violence impacts people of any race, age, gender or economic status. Violence can be physical, verbal, emotional and psychological. But financial abuse is one of the most common reasons that individuals of violence stay in or return to their relationships.
Many people, particularly women, fear for their economic well-being and become unsure of what to do. MoneyGeek shares options that can empower women to find support and assistance.
If you feel you are in danger, follow these steps:
- Call 9-1-1.
- The National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence legal help. 1-800-537-2238
Understanding Financial Abuse
Financial abuse involves manipulating a person's ability to acquire, use and maintain financial resources. They may be restricted from working or may have their money stolen. They may also have to justify minimum expenses.
Identifying Common Tactics
Financial abuse can take many forms. If your partner has a pattern of using any of the following tactics over you or your relationship, that person may be engaging in financial abuse.
- Controlling finances: A partner may gain control over their significant other by asking for access to bank accounts. In this situation, having no control over finances can lead to an increasingly limited access to funds.
- Making overt threats: Threats and intimidation allow a controlling partner to assert power. A partner may outrightly forbid their significant other from having a job or making money.
- Withholding money: Those who experience financial abuse may be forced to ask for permission to buy personal items or basic goods. They may be given a small “allowance” but forbidden from requesting anything beyond that.
- Participating in illegal behavior: Controlling partners may ask their significant other to help steal or commit fraud. Common schemes include forcing their significant other to yield their public benefits or make false insurance claims. Their identity, property or inheritance may also be stolen.
- Involving a partner in poor financial habits: Those who are in control of your finances may leave bills unpaid, run up debt or credit card limits and ask others to pay for everyday expenses.
Preparing to Leave
For many women, domestic violence or intimate partner violence is life-altering. Leaving an unhealthy relationship takes courage, planning and support. Making adequate emergency and financial preparations can be a way to limit feeling overwhelmed. Rehearse and practice your plans to know the exact steps you’ll take in a situation. The more you rehearse, the better prepared you’ll be.
Having an emergency plan can help an individual leave an unhealthy relationship. Survivors can feel more prepared to forge a new path and end a cycle of dependence and violence when they are able to plan ahead.
Create an escape bag
An escape bag will make it easier to leave if you are in life-threatening danger. The bag should include clothes, cash, essential medications and copies of important financial documents like a house deed, life insurance policy, Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, and children's Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports.
Take important documents
Several copies of important documents should be kept in a safe place, like a friend’s or family member's house. The original should be hidden somewhere else. Important documentation can include birth certificates, vaccine records, a driver’s license, work permits and other documents listed in this safety plan template.
Contact local police
You can contact your local police station to let them know that you plan on leaving an abusive relationship. Police stations can assist in safety planning which is usually free and available in multiple languages.
Consider pets or children
Consider safe options for you and your loved ones. Always take your children with you when you leave. If you have pets, your safety plan should include somewhere that your pets can go temporarily while you work to get back on your feet.
Create a code word
Creating a code word can help in an emergency situation. Explain to children, friends, neighbors or family that when they hear the code word, they should call the police.
Locate an escape destination
Find out if family or friends can provide emergency housing. Explore the temporary living situations offered by local agencies. Your local county website should offer a list of domestic violence shelters in your area. Programs like Safe at Home provide confidential addresses for domestic violence survivors to use to continue to receive mail.
In many unhealthy relationships, women have no or limited control over their finances. Economic fear may lead many women to stay in holding patterns with their relationship. If a woman does manage to leave, she may do so without a financial base. The following steps will help you overcome potential financial struggles.
Review all accounts and make secure copies of account information, addresses, customer service numbers and passwords. Make copies of the latest statements and balances. Store these copies out of the house or scan them and store them online in an account that cannot be accessed by anyone else. If possible, keep a cash stash somewhere safe.
Cover your digital footprint
Erase your search history using the function in your internet browser. Erasing your search history can make it more difficult for others to trace you or your accounts. Change passwords and keep new passwords private and secure. Open an email address that others cannot access.
Assess your finances
Assessing your finances means making a plan for housing, healthcare and other issues. Without an adequate or safe place to go, it’s difficult to leave a bad situation. Survivors who were receiving healthcare under their partner will lose that coverage when they leave, so be aware of your policy.
If an abuser has not allowed a woman to work or build their finances, they may not have the financial means to pay their own bills once they leave. Begin thinking about how you can find employment, access money and open a bank account.
COVID-19 and Domestic Violence
Research conducted by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that there was an 8% increase in domestic violence reports during COVID, and it’s believed that number is highly underreported. There was also a decline in arrests of less severe violence because police were not allowed in homes.
“COVID made the perfect storm for a pandemic within a pandemic,” said Dr. Catherine Kaukinen, contributing author to the National Commission study. “We saw COVID become a tool for abusers. Everything was exacerbated and women were unable to go to hospitals or shelters to seek help.”
Recently, the Biden administration announced a $200 million allotment from the American Rescue Plan to support services for survivors of domestic violence as a result of the rise in cases during lockdown.
Where to Find Financial Support and Assistance
There are various sources of financial support and assistance for survivors of violence. You can find resources and tools for housing, medical, legal and nutritional needs.
A lack of safe and affordable housing is a common barrier for survivors of violence. Women often have difficulties choosing to leave if they don’t feel they have somewhere safe to go. Whether it’s temporary or permanent, it’s advisable to start preparing and securing your safe home before you leave.
Temporary housing, also known as transitional housing, is short-term housing with supportive services that address a survivor’s immediate needs. Domestic violence programs across the United States have implemented transitional housing options such as scattered-site models, cluster models, and communal models that give survivors a safe place to live while preparing for permanent housing. The following are good resources to consider:
- DomesticShelters.org: Through this online directory of domestic violence shelters, you can find 24/7 hotlines and emergency housing around the country. Searches can be done in various languages, including Spanish and Chinese.
- New Hope For Women: This two-year program provides a safe place for survivors of domestic violence and their children to live while regaining their independence. Applicants must be homeless or at risk of homelessness as a result of the domestic violence, in addition to being beyond the initial crisis phase and being eligible for low-income housing assistance.
- HELP USA: This organization in New York is an emergency residence that gives victims of domestic violence a safe and confidential place to live. It also provides employment services, vocational training, counseling and other support services.
- Women Against Abuse: Based in Philadelphia, this housing shelter has two 100-bed safe havens that provide women and children a safe place to stay. Similar programs are available in many other cities.
- 211: This online database allows you to search for local domestic abuse shelters in your area. It also provides shelter contact information and further details on the type of housing offered.
Independent housing refers to housing outside of an assistance program and can be an option for survivors who already have a financial foundation. Options can include renting or buying a home.
If you are renting, it may be necessary to purchase renters insurance, which can protect you and your belongings against fire, vandalism or another insured disaster.
If you’re considering purchasing a home, research popular home loans such as conventional, FHA and USDA loans and review mortgage rates to get a better idea of what your overall estimated mortgage payments may be.
Both temporary and short-term food assistance programs can help ensure that a survivor and her children meet their nutritional needs. An array of federal, state and local programs can help.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: TANF provides financial assistance, social support programs and food for pregnant women and adults who are responsible for children under the age of 19. Recipients must have low incomes and underemployed or unemployed.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): This federal program is aimed at helping women secure food. Through state programs, WIC provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, as well as infants and children up to the age of five. Most states also run their own food stamp and food voucher programs.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP is a federal program that provides a supplemental budget for women and low-income families to purchase food. Women who are living in emergency or domestic abuse shelters qualify for assistance.
Medical and Mental Health Support
More than half of women seen by mental health professionals have been affected by an intimate partner. Domestic violence can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other conditions. There are several places women can go for medical and mental health support.
- Medicaid: Medicaid is a federally funded health insurance program that provides coverage for low-income individuals. Medicaid can help women access affordable primary, preventive, specialty and long-term care services.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): CHIP provides low-cost health care coverage for children whose families may make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Every state has different eligibility requirements.
- National Center for Victims of Crime: This nonprofit organization partners with local, state and federal organizations to help advocate for victims and train professionals in offering support. It also offers resources and support for medical and mental health assistance.
- American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Charitable Foundation (AACDCF ): The AACDCF offers dental services and support programs to women and children who have suffered dental injuries as a result of domestic violence. The AACDCF will help connect you with local dentists in your area.
- The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008: The Act’s website can help answer questions you have about health insurance and using your coverage to see a mental health professional.
- Face2Face: Many nonprofits like Face2Face offer counseling, medical care, housing support and other social services to youth. Face2Face is based in Minnesota, but similar organizations exist across the United States.
Survivors of domestic violence can access assistance to exercise their rights. Legal aid services and lawyers can help a survivor understand restraining orders, child custody, family court and divorce law, among other topics. Often, domestic violence is covered by state laws, although regulations can vary.
- Legal ChallengeHow to Do This
- Obtaining a restraining or protective orderYou can file for a restraining order through your local county courthouse or domestic violence resource center.
- Gaining child custodyAlways take a child with you if you leave an abusive relationship and document all abuse when it happens. This way, you can prove abuse at a custody hearing.
- Differing state arrest lawsStates have laws that tell enforcement officers how to respond to intimate violence. Some states require an arrest, some leave it to the officer’s discretion. It’s best to check on your state’s laws.
- Guaranteeing safetyMost states provide victims with the right to privacy and safety while in court. This includes the right to ask for separate waiting rooms and staggered court times.
- Filing for divorceIf you live in a “no fault” state, you do not have to prove abuse for a divorce to be granted. A lawyer can help you file for divorce.
Legal issues can be highly complex for survivors of domestic violence. The following legal resources are a good place to start.
- Guide to Domestic Violence Law in America: This guide breaks down the legal rights of survivors affected by domestic violence. It also discusses state laws for officer responses and tips for obtaining legal advice.
- Women’s Law: This site provides information by state regarding custody laws in domestic violence cases. It also provides insight into divorce and steps that women can take to gain custody of their children in each state. It is a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Inc.
- National Women’s Law Center: This national organization offers legal services and assistance to women. Survivors can connect with lawyers and find legal resources.
- Legal Momentum: This site provides resources and tools to assure survivors keep their jobs or find work.
Path to Regaining Financial Independence
Feeling financially secure can help an individual walk away from domestic violence or intimate partner violence. Improving personal finances can be a key way to begin to achieve independence.
Updating Insurance Policies
When you’ve worked hard to regain your financial independence, you’ll want to make sure you’re protected with insurance. You should plan on getting separate auto insurance coverage if you’re taking a vehicle with you when you leave. It may also be a good idea to add coverage with a new insurance company or shop around and compare quotes for the most affordable options.
You’ll also want to obtain proper health insurance for you and your children for any physical or emotional needs. There are a variety of insurance options available for low-income families and individuals and even health insurance options for young adults.
If you already have life insurance coverage, make sure to review your current policy to update the beneficiary information and remove your former partner if that person is listed. If you have not purchased life insurance and have children or other family members who would be financially impacted by your death, purchasing coverage as soon as possible is advisable.
Developing a Credit Score
Having a good credit score is an important part of your financial health. A credit score allows you to access loans and credit cards which can help you in regaining your financial independence. Having a higher score will likely mean getting a lower interest rate on loans. Even bad credit scores can be improved by paying bills on time, keeping low credit card balances, paying off bills on time and paying off bills in full.
Earning and spending money can be empowering. The following sites and resources are good to use if entering the workforce after an absence due to domestic violence.
- Dress for Success: This organization provides support, professional attire and development tools to help women achieve economic independence.
- Her Voice: Her Voice is a female mentorship program that partners recent survivors with women who have been recovering from intimate partner violence for a longer period of time.
- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA): WIOA is legislation that helps Americans facing significant barriers to employment. The Act’s website provides further details and assistance.
- CareerOneStop: CareerOneStop provides a variety of resources for finding work or making a career change. It also offers training opportunities and career advisors.
- ReacHIRE: This program focuses on sending women back to work. The program includes training and placement opportunities.
Expert Advice for Women Experiencing Domestic Violence
- How can women regain financial independence after experiencing domestic violence?
- Who can women turn to for financial and emotional support while they are going through abuse and after they make a decision to take back their lives?
- Why are finances one of the biggest barriers to leaving a domestic abuse situation?
- One of the byproducts of both physical and emotional abuse is a lack of self-esteem. How can survivors overcome that?
- Simply "getting out" of an unhealthy relationship is a huge issue for many women. What are the first steps?
- What is the reason a woman returns to an unhealthy relationship and how can they overcome that barrier?
Economic Justice Advocate at The Shelter for Abused Women & Children
Advocate and Editorial Director of DomesticShelters.org and Co-Host of the podcast, Toxic
Professor and Chair of Criminal Justice at University of Central Florida
Norse Violence Prevention Center Director at Northern Kentucky University
CEO and Founder at Budgets Made Easy
Family Law Attorney and Esquire in New Jersey
Senior Program Officer at The Allstate Foundation
Board of Directors Member at Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) and Unsilenced Voices
Business Ethics Lecturer at San Diego State University
Attorney at Law, Owner of Breeden Law Office
Assistant Professor in Residence at the University of Connecticut and Founder and Principal at YouCount!
Finances are one of the biggest barriers to leaving an unhealthy relationship. Whether you’re currently in, recently left or surviving such a relationship, many other resources can give you support.
- National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: NCDSV offers consulting, training and advocacy on issues relating to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
- Allstate Foundation's Financial Literacy Program: Allstate provides financial literacy and support services to domestic violence survivors. The foundation also gives grants to shelters which offer one-year financial literacy programs.
- Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence: This worldwide organization offers a supportive community to those who have lost a loved one due to domestic violence.
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: The resource center offers a comprehensive source of information for people who want to learn more about domestic violence and help others.
- National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV): NNEDV projects address the causes and consequences of domestic violence. Through WomensLaw, the program also provides legal information and resources to people experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or dating violence.
- Joyful Heart Foundation: The foundation helps survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and aims to heal, educate and empower survivors.
- National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE): The endowment is a national organization dedicated to helping individuals gain the necessary skills to increase their financial education.
- Steps to End Domestic Violence: This prevention and advocacy organization helps survivors of domestic violence safely transition to a new life by offering physical and emotional support.
- Savvy Ladies: This female-founded nonprofit provides financial education for women. The nonprofit also provides a 1:1 personal financial helpline that offers private, safe and secure guidance about money.
About the Author
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