Domestic abuse may take different forms, from threats and insults to physical violence. However, there is another aspect of domestic abuse that can be as constricting and as devastating as physical and psychological harm. Financial abuse can take many different forms and can prevent a victim from leaving an abuser just as effectively as physical violence.
Financial abuse involves controlling a victim’s independence by controlling her or his access to money; without financial freedom, a victim cannot leave an abuser. An abuser may threaten to hurt a victim to keep the victim from spending money or from taking or leaving a job. An abuser may also dictate how money is spent, may conceal funds from the victim, or may compel the victim to open accounts or take out loans that benefit the abuser. Further, the abuser may control the victim by excluding the victim from financial decisions, by deliberately ruining the victim’s credit, or by interfering with the victim’s employment (showing up at the victim’s workplace or otherwise stalking or harassing the victim).
Occasionally – but not always – a victim may have some recourse for gaining access to money that has been withheld or stolen by the abuser. For instance, if a victim is not married to the abuser, the victim may be able to take the abuser to court for any credit card debt that the abuser ran up in the victim’s name or for any loans that the abuser failed to repay. It can be more difficult, however, to recover money from an abuser who is also a spouse or former spouse. Money earned within a marriage is generally considered the joint property of both spouses. However, if the abuser takes or uses money that the victim received or inherited before the marriage, the victim may be able to sue for its recovery.
Possibilities for recovery aside, it is important to recognize and understand the forms that abuse may take. Abuse may not look like abuse, but it can be devastating nonetheless.