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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Voices / Viewpoint

When abusers control the money

Abusers tend to be the ones controlling how money is spent. Often, they hide financial information and withhold money for even basic needs like food, diapers, or medication.

The Women’s Freedom Center (womensfreedomcenter.net) works to end domestic and sexual violence and serves both Windham and southern Windsor counties. Women in danger can reach an advocate 24 hours a day on the crisis line at 802-254-6954. Because of the sensitive and often dangerous nature of their work, we offer the Freedom Center advocates very rare anonymity in these pages.

Brattleboro

When we changed our name a few years ago from “Women’s Crisis Center” to “Women’s Freedom Center,” part of our aim was to broaden public awareness of the actual scope of our mission.

Of course, that mission involves crisis intervention, but beyond that, we advocate to help women achieve true liberation in our culture. And a crucial step toward independence is gaining economic empowerment.

Even women who haven’t experienced the devastating toll of domestic violence on their financial lives absorb the cumulative impact of patriarchy — including fewer opportunities as well as lower salaries.

The financial gaps this disparity creates across a female’s lifespan, compared to a male’s — or more specifically, a white male’s — are glaring. Even in Vermont, one of the country’s more progressive states in terms of pay “equity,” white women working full-time still earn only about 83 percent of what their male peers do.

And the numbers are even lower when race is factored in, showing that other kinds of discrimination remain significant hurdles, too.

* * *

If a woman has also had a batterer for a partner, the blow to her financial well-being might be enormous; 98 percent of the time, women who experience domestic violence are also living with financial abuse.

Some abusers focus outright on sabotaging a woman’s credit or financial capabilities — whether it’s preventing her from working or going to school, or whether it’s negatively affecting her attendance and ability to focus and excel.

In healthy relationships, both partners are safe to discuss their needs and wants until a mutual agreement is reached about finances. Abusers, however, tend to be the ones controlling how money is spent. Often, they hide financial information and withhold money for even basic needs like food, diapers, or medication. They might also force their partners to turn over their EBT card, SSI benefits, or even paycheck.

Without access to money, women’s immediate safety is compromised, as they often feel they have no way out of the relationship. And even when they do manage to leave, they might now have poor credit and rental histories, and little or no work history to make ends meet on their own.

It’s hard to overstate the chronic stress-level of survivors, and not just when they’re still in the relationship, but often for significant periods beyond, as they try to just recover a sense of autonomy. It can be a much longer haul to actually start pursuing a dream.

* * *

The Women’s Freedom Center periodically offers free workshops on economic empowerment to all self-identified women who are currently or, have in the past, experienced an abusive relationship.

Child care will be provided, and together we will explore a range of key topics in a casual and supportive atmosphere: creative ways to gain financial independence, accessing resources and benefits, improving credit, managing debt, building savings, and creating a realistic budget.

We will be joined by Vermont Works for Women, and you’re welcome to bring financial questions and ideas to the workshops. It’s a great chance to think together, receive and offer support and inspiration, and meet some other women who are facing similar challenges.

If you’re interested in the next round of classes, please call us to sign up, and please help us spread the word to women you might know.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #305 (Wednesday, May 13, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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