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Experts Offer Financial Advice to D.C.’s Domestic Violence Victims

Domestic violence experts in the District say victims are traumatized not only physically, mentally and emotionally but also financially and note they have recommendations to prevent financial abuse.

“The financial abuse of domestic violence victims needs to be talked about any and everywhere,” said Dawn Dalton, executive director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Ninety-nine percent of domestic violence victims suffer from economic abuse also.”

Economic or financial abuse occurs when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to resources which diminishes the victim’s capacity to support themselves and forces them to depend on the perpetrator financially. Monica Mitchell, vice president for corporate philanthropy and community development for Wells Fargo Bank in Maryland and the greater Washington area, said “no one is immune to this” despite widespread perceptions that financial abuse victims exclusively are low-income.”

Forms of Financial Abuse

Dalton said financial abuse can occur when one partner forces the other to take on debt and get a loan under coercion. She said opening up a credit card in the victim’s name, with or without their knowledge, also counts as financial abuse.

“You are financially tied to that relationship,” Dalton said. “Finances are very important in any relationship.”

Sandra Jackson serves as the president and CEO of the District’s House of Ruth which offers support for women, children and families undergoing trauma often related to domestic violence. Jackson agreed with Dalton on the serious nature of credit card abuse.

“Many victims have suffered financially because of credit card debt misuse by an abuser,” she said. “It is important to have good credit. People who have good credit have easier access to employment, cars and housing.”

Jackson said most of her clients have never used financial instruments or learned money management.

“Some of the women we deal with have never had a bank account,” she said. “We teach them how to set up a bank account and how to manage a household budget.”

Mitchell said financial abuse can have different manifestations.

“It can be in the form of not letting the victim open up a bank account, bills that weren’t discussed but charges have been made, using the victim’s name without permission to obtain a loan or credit card, not letting them manage their own finances and threatening to come to their place of employment to embarrass them with the goal of their partner being fired,” she said.

Combating Financial Abuse

Jackson said financial education can become a weapon in the victim’s arsenal of protection.

“It is important to start educating women about money early in life,” she said. “Women who have been taught how to manage money early tend to make better financial decisions and are more financially secure as they get older.”

Mitchell said victims must often be creative to avoid financial abuse.

“One way to fight this type of abuse is to have mail dealing with finances sent to a trusted relative or friend instead of the address where the partner and the abuser live,” she said. “Plus, I would be hesitant about opening up joint accounts. Joint accounts mean that both parties have access to the money. Also, I would not recommend sharing a social security number with a partner. The abuser can use the victim’s social security number to open up accounts in the victim’s name and not pay obligations that are created. As a result, the victim suffers greater financial harm.”

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