October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one in three women have experienced some form of violence or intimidation in a romantic relationship. Women are the victims of 76% of reported cases of domestic violence.
But domestic violence doesn’t just manifest itself in broken bones and black eyes. There is a subset of domestic violence that is rarely addressed: economic abuse. It’s when one partner in a relationship has control over the other partner’s finances, including their ability to have, earn or use money. This kind of abuse is present in 98% of abusive relationships, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Lori*, a domestic abuse advocate, didn’t realize for a long time that what she had lived through with her former husband was abuse. “I didn’t even know I was a survivor,” she told Motto.
Lori married her husband in 1985, just shy of her 21st birthday. From then on, she says she was not allowed to work outside of the home or attend college. They had six children, and Lori says she was not allowed to use any kind of birth control. Her husband also verbally abused her and the children. He controlled the budget and the banking information, and would give her limited amounts of money solely for household expenditures and bills. She says he even forced her to sign bankruptcy papers against her will.
Lori believes that “I think it’s the number one reason women stay: because they don’t have the financial means to leave,” Lori said. It was true for her — she had no means to support herself or her children because she couldn’t get a job. And she didn’t have any family in the area to help support or take her in if she did attempt to leave. “He had total control over every aspect of my life,” she said. “Leaving a batterer is one of the hardest things you will ever do in your lifetime,” Lori said.
Apart from the emotional challenges of leaving an abusive relationship and the risk of physical violence – Lori says her husband threatened to kill himself and her children if she ever left — leaving requires money for housing, food and clothing. And if your batterer fights for custody, Lori added, you have an expensive few years in court ahead of you.
Lori saved $2600 — the cost for a legal retainer at the time — by stashing small bills leftover from grocery trips in tampon boxes. It took her two years to save up that amount.
She shared that she faced a lot of stigma from others after she finally left her husband, in part because he told their friends and neighbors that she was “crazy” and had an affair — neither of which were true. “Some people turned their backs on me and the kids,” Lori said. “People are uncomfortable when they realize that there is a possibility that they may be friendly with someone who acts like this.”
Read more: 3 Harmful Myths About Domestic Violence
Now 11 years after leaving and divorcing her husband, Lori has completed a masters in social work from the University of Michigan and is currently looking for a position in social work. She also works with Allstate Foundation’s PurplePurse to raise awareness of domestic violence issues. She hopes to someday open a non-profit to provide financial assistance and free long-term therapy to domestic violence survivors.
Lori says that the best thing you can do for a person in an abusive situation is to keep the lines of communication open. She recommends finding a safe way to get them resources and help, whether it be money or a place to stay. And above all, she says it’s crucial to just be there because abuse is very isolating. “A lot of times it’s just listening to them and validating that they’re OK, because the batterer emotionally beats you down to where you have no self-esteem.”
*Lori has requested that we withhold her last name due to safety concerns.