One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.

Domestic Violence is Also This - Financial Abuse

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one, starting with today’s blog on financial abuse.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Financial Abuse, also called Economic Abuse

Financial abuse is extremely prevalent in abusive relationships, and like all kinds of abuse it stems from the abuser’s need to control their victim.  With this particular type of control, the means of doing so is with money.

In my experience of talking with other survivors, financial abuse is the number one reason that they didn’t leave sooner.  It is extremely difficult to choose between an unstable, unsafe home where you at least have shelter, food, and your basic needs met, versus possible homelessness, struggling to feed yourself and your children, and other financial insecurity even if it is violence-free.  

Everyone’s experiences are unique, but some of the common ways that financial abuse manifest is:

* Abuser will not allow their victim to work or go to school
* Abuser requires their victim to work 
* Abuser controls all the financial decisions, bank account access, etc.
* Abuser harasses their victim at work or school, such as with excessive phone calls that affects their work performance
* Abuser sabotages their victim’s job or education in other ways
* Abuser demands that a lease or mortgage or other financial instrument be in their own name so they have full control, or demands it be only in the victims name and then sabotages their credit
* Abuser forces their victim to sign financial documents or take out loans
* Abuser withholds money for buying needed items, or even withholds the items themselves (such as clothing, food, personal hygiene etc)
* Abuser refuses to pay child support 
* Abuser requires justification for all money spent, demands receipts for money spent, and/or requires “payment” for money spent (such as sexual favors)
* Abuser repeatedly files lawsuits or otherwise forces their victim to incure large legal debt
* Abuser damages or steals their victims belongings
* Abuser punishes their victim with other types of abuse (physical, emotional, etc) for spending money

My Story

In my case, when we were first married my abuser would sabotage my attempts to get ready for work on time.  When this didn’t do enough harm, he got hired by the same company and told them that we would have to carpool to work.  He was an awful employee, and when they made their seasonal cutbacks they let us both go.  I knew at the time it was due to his sabotag; my performance reviews had been high before he was hired and slipped more and more the longer he worked there.   

I got another job, but it required I wake up before dawn and drive an hour to the office.  He pulled all sorts of shenanigans to keep me from getting to bed on time; the lack of sleep made me too tired to drive safely (although I never had an accident, I was concerned I would), and negatively affected my performance.  

Later, he talked me into going into business with him; self-employment sounded like a good idea at first.  But once I was working with him, it was extremely easy for him to control my work schedule, as well as gradually take away my financial independence.  By the time I left, he had full control of all the bank accounts and credit cards.  He insisted that I “do the bookkeeping,” but this was an excuse to abuse me further when he reviewed them and didn’t like what he saw.  

Throughout our marriage, he would insist on buying things that we couldn’t afford, often on credit, and then when things got tight he would sell things at a loss.  He would insist that I let him use my credit cards for this, or open up new lines of credit, so that I could “pull my weight.”  The purchases were typically things that could be justified as being for the business so that if I did argue he could mansplain it all to me about why we needed it and how it would increase profits.  Of course I knew he’d just go ahead and buy (or sell) whatever it was anyway, so eventually I stopped argueing because it wasn’t worth the resulting physical or verbal abuse.

One of the biggest reasons I stayed was financial.  I had no idea where I’d be able to find a job and certainly didn’t have access to money of my own to rent an apartment, hire a divorce lawyer, or even buy food.  But it was also a major part of why I knew I had to leave.  Everything I considered my own property, or even the things we owned together but that I cared about, were subject to his whims to sell or destroy.  Some of the things he got rid of, such as my pet goat, were more painful to lose than the pain of another beating.

When I left over five years ago, the financial abuse didn’t end.  In fact, it’s still ongoing.  He ruined my credit even further.  He did everything he could to make the divorce costs get as expensive as possible.  Additionally, he filed numerous lawsuits against me and my family, and continues to press legal actions against me even recently.

Financial abuse, like any kind of abuse, is all about control.  It’s a way to hurt the victim by taking away their independence, their self-worth, and even depriving the of basic needs or making them barter for those things with degredation.  It takes away the very means than a victim needs to leave their abuser.  

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 


  1. THANK YOU Meredith, for expanding the definition of domestic violence. I appreciate the more inclusive and descriptive term of domestic abuse. And certainly financial abuse is one of the most insidious - causing a victim to feel worthless and helpless because there is the unspoken feeling that the victim allowed the abuse and therefore has "no right" to object to it. THANK YOU for everything that you're doing!!!

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