Featured Experts
Sally Balch Hurme
Kendra Massey Vice President of Programming, Women Helping Women View bio
Sally Balch Hurme
Natalia Smirnova Director of Education, AIER View bio

This guide was written by

MoneyGeek Staff

A web of crisscrossing factors can trap women in abusive relationships. Economic dependence often is a powerful barrier to escape: if she leaves, how will she provide for herself and her children? The prospect of pursuing an education or employment while navigating a treacherous transition is daunting – if not overwhelming.

That’s why many social service agencies take a holistic approach to helping women get out of dangerous relationships and living situations. Many successful programs blend job skills, economic education, counseling, and practical help for everyday living to provide a complete context for building a new life. Supported by foundations, faith organizations and community groups, these agencies and services often offer financial help for lifesaving transitions.

You Are Not Alone

85 percent:

the proportion of domestic abuse victims who are women.

15 percent:

the proportion of male victims.

8 million:

Number of paid work days women lose annually, directly due to abuse by a current or former male partner.

20:

The number of people who are physical abused by their partner every minute.

96 percent:

Proportion of domestic violence victims who have workplace complications directly due to the abuse (based on victims with paid employement).

10 to 20 years:

How long a victim’s financial stability is affected by the abuse.

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003; Centers For Disease Control Report, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States, March 2003 ; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Institute on Domestic Violence; 2001; Source: The Allstate Foundation

Stay Safe

If you feel you are in danger, consider reaching out for help immediately.
  • 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

Planning to Leave: Tips on How to Prepare

Mustering the courage to leave is a process in itself. Overcoming the final barriers – emotional and logistical – to actually leaving is still a major step. Planning and preparing can be antidotes to fear, but even if you have to leave suddenly, there are ways to make the departure less wrenching.

Cover your digital tracks, as much as possible

Erase your search history (use the function in your internet browser) to make it more difficult for others to trace your research about your options. Change your passwords and keep the new passwords private and secure. Open an email address that only you can access and move key contacts to that account.

Assess your finances

Review all accounts and make secure copies of account information, numbers, 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 only you access.

Pack and stash an emergency escape bag

This will make it easier to quickly leave if you are in lifethreatening danger. The bag should include clothes; cash; essential medications; and copies of important financial documents like the deed to the house;, your life insurance policy; your Social Security card, birth certificate and passport; and your childrens’ Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports.

Save an emergency cash stash

If you are economically dependent on your partner creating your own secret savings stash gives you the wherewithal to take care of yourself for a few days.

Establish safe harbor connections

Even if you think you won’t need their services, have introductory conversations with social workers at the nearest domestic violence shelter or center. Make sure you know how to get to the center via car and public transportation.

Locate an escape destination

Find out if family or friends could provide emergency housing. Explore the temporary living situations offered by local agencies.

Hide a spare key

Have at least one set of backup keys in a secure location, separate from the usual place where you keep your car and house keys.

Start building your credit history

Establishing your economic independence takes time. Consider opening a checking account and credit card in your own name, based solely on your own financial assets. This will be invaluable if you need to sign a lease for an apartment.

Protect your accounts

Change the passwords, usernames and other identfiers for key accounts. This is especially important if you’ve been using your Social Security number as part of your account information.

Exit joint accounts

Remove yourself from joint accounts. Get a release from loans you have cosigned. This will help minimize financial backlash.

Emergency Help: Covering the Necessities

The trauma of domestic violence doesn’t end once you leave. It can be overwhelming to piece together the daily necessities – even more so when you are doing the same for children, too. These resources can help set first steps in the right direction.

Housing Options

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Domesticshelters.org

Through this largest directory of domestic violence shelters around the country you can find 24/7 hotlines and emergency shelters in nearly every locale. Searches can be done in various languages including Spanish and Chinese.

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New Hope For Women

Transitional Housing
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; be beyond the initial crisis phase; and be eligible for low income housing assistance.

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Transitional Housing For Domestic Violence Victims

Operated by local agencies and nonprofits in many cities and towns, these are emergency residences that give victims of domestic violence a safe and confidential place to live. For instance, HELP Haven, in New York, provides transitional housing as well as employment services, vocational training, counseling and other support services.

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Women’s Against Abuse Emergency Safe HavensBased

in Philadelphia has two 100-bed safe havens that provide women and their children a safe and confidential place to stay. Similar programs are available in most states.

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Women’s Shelters

This nationwide directory of shelters for women lets you quickly find a local program.

Food Assistance

Both temporary and short-term food assistance programs can help you ensure that you, and your children, will have nutrition during a difficult period. An array of federal, state and local programs are intended to help families in need; some are only available to families with low incomes.

For instance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is managed by each state to provide financial assistance, social support programs and food for pregnant women and adults responsible for children under the age of 19. Recipients must have low incomes and must be under or unemployed.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a Federal program aimed to help women with food. Through state programs, WIC provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education to low income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to the age of five. As well, most states run their own food stamp and food voucher programs.

Domestic violence victims can also get temporary food assistance from non-profits such as the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition of Grass Valley, Calif. It provides battered women with emergency food and clothing for them and their families. It will also provide transportation for the victim to go somewhere safe or to access needed services.

Legal Assistance

From legal aid services to family court to an ever-evolving range of legal protections, domestic violence victims can access help to exercise their legal rights. Often, domestic violence is covered by state laws, particularly those that apply restraining orders, custody, divorce and criminal law. Each state’s laws and customs vary. For instance, a restraining order can be essential, but the process to obtain an order varies by state.

A restraining or protective order requires the abuser to stay away from you at home, work, school and in public. Victims can also request that abusers cease all contact. In some states an abuser could also be ordered to pay temporary child support or continue to pay the rent or mortgage or provide other financial support.

Gaining child custody is going to be another major legal hurdle facing many domestic violence victims. Custody is also handled by state courts, each following that state’s laws. In general, courts first consider the children’s best interests, but women often must persuade judges to focus on parental issues and not so much on their partners’ community standing and professional reputations. In most states, women are required to file for custody in the home state of the child or where the child lived for at least the last six consecutive months, which can complicate the process if you escaped from another state.

Given the complexities of abuse cases, many victims work with lawyers that specialize in domestic violence and women’s issues. Some legal aid centers offer free legal help to domestic violence victims. Women can find lawyers and advocates that will help through WomensLaw.org.

Help Finding a Job

Domestic violence victims often have endured career interruptions that have left them with few marketable skills. Those who have been out of the workforce for years face a steep learning curve for gaining job skills and building confidence for the application and interview process.

Holistic programs often includes job training, professional presence, interviewing and career counseling services. Many states provide help through aid and mentoring programs like the A.V.O.N Mentoring program in New York City. It pairs highly experience professionals in different industries with women in need to focus on developing technical, professional and personal skills.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence has teamed up with the Allstate Foundation to provide battered women with job training and readiness skills including budgeting and financial planning. As well, some scholarship and grant programs offer domestic violence victims the resources to attend college or job training programs. LiveYourDream.org, for instance, provides grants and scholarships geared toward women and their families.

Assembling a career wardrobe is an important step for both looking and feeling ready for interviews and for work. Dress For Success and similar nonprofits can help. They provide professional attire and development tools to help women thrive in their workplace – as well as personal support and coaching.

Medical Needs

Domestic violence survivors often need medical attention long after the abuse is over physically and emotionally. However, there are no government assistance programs specifically addressing the health impacts of domestic violence. Through the National Center for Victims of Crime, survivors can get their medical and dental expenses paid and counseling costs covered. The center also pays for funeral or burial expenses and lost wages or support. Every state has a crime victim compensation program. Some states also pay for financial counseling and travel for medical treatment.

To regain health and maintain wellness, survivors of domestic abuse need to access health care through some sort of insurance program. ThroughMedicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), low income women can get free or low-cost health coverage.

Dental repair is often an urgent need for domestic abuse victims. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Charitable Foundation (AACDCF), through the Give Back a Smile program, provides cosmetic dental care at no cost to survivors of domestic violence.

Help for College Students

Abuses against students can take many forms, ranging from sexual and physical assault to economic abuses from a partner or even a parent. These are not only painful for victims but it also interferes with their ability to succeed in college.

Many students don’t seek for help because they are afraid or ashamed, experts say. About 95 percent of all rapes on college campuses go unreported, says the American Civil Liberties Union. There are several resources available to help these students.

Remember that safety should always come first. If you feel like you are in immediate danger, call 911 or call the police to report the abuser. Campus police can also help in most situations. For economic or emotional abuse that is interfering with the completion of your coursework or your ability to attend school, consider talking to a school counselor, who may be able to steer you in the right path for finding help. Many universities nowadays offer counseling and resources for students who are victims of abuse.

Sexual Abuse in College

  • More than 27%

    of female college seniors reported having experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact since starting college

  • 84%

    of the college women who reported a sexual assault experience said it happened during their freshman or sophomore years

  • Nearly half

    of victims of rape in the U.S. knew their perpetrator

Sources: WhiteHouse.gov, Association of American Universities, Rainn.org

Scholarships for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Survivors of domestic violence face a lot of challenges to regain their self-confidence and independence. One way to become self-reliant and independent is to earn a college degree. This may not seem financially feasible for some women, especially if they have children or don’t have a reliable source of income. But earning a scholarship may help them get on the right track. There are several scholarships available for survivors of abuse. They can provide some or all the funding to women who needs to earn a college degree and get back on their feet after being in an abusive relationship.

Women’s Independence Scholarship Program (WISP)

Open to survivors of domestic violence who are single mothers with young children and exhibits a great financial need. Applicant must be a woman who is a direct survivor of intimate partner abuse.

Varies
The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund

Open to low-income women who have been the victims of domestic abuse. Applicants must be 35 or older and should be pursuing either an associate or bachelor’s degree. Each recipient has to demonstrate leadership skills.

Varies
Patsy Takemoto Mink Scholarship

Open to low-income women, especially mothers who are pursuing post-secondary education.

Up to $5,000
Emerge Scholarships

This is available for women whose education was delayed or interrupted. This scholarship isn’t for recent high school graduates or women who are eligible for other forms of financial aid.

$2,000-$2,500
Soroptimist Live Your Dreams Award

Open to nontraditional students who face economic, social or physical challenges.

$3,000-$10,000
Sophie Greenstadt Scholarshio For Mid-Life Women

Open to women 35 and older who are reentering or continuing school.

$1,000
The Women’s Opportunity Award

The award is open to women demonstrating financial need, who provide the primary financial support for their family and who are currently enrolled in or have been accepted to a vocational/skills training program or undergraduate degree program.

$2,000
The Osher Reentry Scholarship Program

Open to undergraduate students who have experienced a gap in their education of at least five years. It’s designed for students who are between 25 and 50 years old. Must demonstrate financial need.

up to $50,000

Regaining Financial Independence

Economic independence can permanently change women’s lives. This involves learning about and then managing family finances, retirement investments, earnings and career. All of this is the foundation for forging a new path for life and personal success – and forever ending the cycle of dependence and violence.

Resources for Financial Education

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Allstate Foundation

Provides financial literacy and support services to domestic violence victims. Allstate gives grants to shelters to offer one-year financial literacy programs.

National Collation Against Domestic Violence: Provides in-depth information and help for domestic abuse victims including a searchable database of shelters and other resources.

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Domesticshelters.org

An online searchable database of domestic violence shelters around the country.

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National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

A comprehensive source of information for people who want to learn more about domestic violence and help others with the issues related to this huge problem.

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WomensLaw.org’s National Network To End Domestic Violence program

Provides access to legal information and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

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The National Domestic Violence Hotline

This 24/7 hotline provides lifesaving advice and immediate support to enable victims to safety leave and live free of abuse.

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U.S. National Library of medicine MedlinePlus

Run by the government victims can find information about domestic violence and resources to get government help.

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Women Helping Battered Women Shelter and Housing Services Program

Helps survivors of domestic violence and their children in their search for emergency, transition and permanent housing. Available for survivors of current or recent domestic violence.

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Joyful Heart Foundation

A national foundation created by actress Mariska Hargitary (of Law & Order SVU fame) to help victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. The mission of the group is to heal, educate and empower survivors.

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VINE

Available in 47 states, VineLink.com enables women to search for an offender who is in custody and be alerted if that person is released, transferred or escaped.

Q&A: Advice From the Experts

Sally Balch HurmeKendra Massey Expert

Kendra Massey, is the vice president of programming at Women Helping Women.

Sally Balch HurmeNatalia Smirnova Author

Natalia Smirnova, PhD, is a senior research fellow and director of education at AIER.

They offer some tips for victims of domestic violence on how to prepare to leave their abuser, how to regain financial indepence after leaving and where to find support.

Simply ‘getting out’ is a huge issue for many domestic violence victims. What are first steps?

Massey: We generally work with survivors individually to address any barriers they may be facing. When the barrier is emotions, it sometimes just takes time to move past that so we try to be a support and resource to survivors whether they are ready to leave the relationship or not. We also try to connect survivors to other sources of support, because we’ve found that having a robust support network is one of the most helpful factors for survivors. As far as finances, there are agencies and resources to help with housing, benefits, and other supports. They are different in every community, so connecting with a domestic violence organization that can help connect survivors to other resources can be a good first step.

Smirnova: AIER developed Money School, a pilot program for women who have survived domestic and sexual violence in our area, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Partnering with Elizabeth Freeman Center (EFC), a county-wide service center for survivors, we ran a series of workshops teaching women how to establish credit, open a bank account, plan and budget, and learn to be financially independent. Our advice is to work toward a big financial goal, such as going back to school or saving for future needs. We encourage women to develop a “My money, my choice” attitude toward finance and to use local resources – bankers, credit counselors, and other women who have gone through a similar experience – for support.

How can women regain financial independence?

Massey: There are resources in most cities and communities to help with housing – such as subsidized or transitional housing programs which can be a great option for some survivors to move towards financial independence while still being safe. Some communities also have financial empowerment classes and some agencies offer matched savings account programs or Individual Development Accounts to help survivors of abuse regain financial independence. Everyone’s situation is different, so we hesitate to give blanket advice regarding financial empowerment. One thing that can be helpful for some people is having their own account – a checking or savings where they can build up money over time independently without their abusive partner knowing. But for some survivors, this is not possible, so again, it is very case by case.

Smirnova: We observed informal and formal connections forged throughout the workshops. A young woman expressed in an interview that the program made her feel like she wasn’t alone and that she could get support from other people who were “in the same place as [she] was.” She liked that she could talk about her trauma and her experience with money to people whom she felt understood her. The women themselves served as a source of powerful emotional support for one another. Money School helped the women who attended our workshops find people and resources to support them in taking charge of their own lives.

Who can they turn to, for financial and emotional support, while they are going through the abuse and after they make the decision to take back their lives?

Massey: Some survivors turn to family or friends for support – both financially and emotionally. Other survivors opt for more objective support through a domestic violence services agency or private therapist. Domestic violence services agencies are a great first step, because they often offer individual support as well as peer based support groups for survivors. These programs are also typically familiar with financial resources available in their local communities such as those mentioned above.

One of the byproducts of both physical and emotional abuse is a lack of self-esteem. How can they overcome that?

Massey: Usually the first step to increasing self-esteem for survivors is understanding and believing that the abuse is or was not their fault. Many survivors blame themselves because they have heard their partner blame them for the abuse for so long. There is also too much victim blaming in our society that can lead to shame and embarrassment of survivors. Connecting with a supportive agency, a support group, and/or therapeutic services can be a helpful first step for survivors.

Smirnova: Women should seek support groups or programs like Money School, which will connect them to local resources and to each other. They might do it simply for searching the internet for “financial literacy programs” in their local area. Support of others in the group will build their self-confidence and help them to find a job lead and to interview successfully.