Economic abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources, which diminishes the victim's capacity to support him/herself and forces him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially.
It is related, or also known as, financial abuse, which is the illegal or unauthorized use of a person’s property, money, pension book or other valuables (including changing the person's will to name the abuser as heir), often fraudulently obtaining power of attorney, followed by deprivation of money or other property, or by eviction from own home. Financial abuse applies to both elder abuse and domestic violence.
A key distinction between economic abuse and financial abuse is that economic abuse also includes the control of someone's present or future earning potential by preventing them from obtaining a job or education.
Role in domestic violence
Economic abuse in a domestic situation may involve:
- preventing a spouse from resource acquisition, such as restricting their ability to find employment, maintain or advance their careers, and acquire assets
- preventing the victim from obtaining education
- spend victim's money without his or her consent and creating debt, or completely spend victim's savings to limit available resources
- exploiting economic resources of the victim
In its extreme (and usual) form, this involves putting the victim on a strict "allowance", withholding money at will and forcing the victim to beg for the money until the abuser gives the victim some money. It is common for the victim to receive less and less money as the abuse continues. This also includes (but is not limited to) preventing the victim from finishing education or obtaining employment, or intentionally squandering or misusing communal resources.
Economic abuse is often used as a controlling mechanism as part of a larger pattern of domestic abuse, which may include verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse may include threats or attempts to kill the spouse. By restricting the victim's access to economic resources, the offender has limited recourses to exit the abusive or violent relationship.
The following are ways that abusers may use economic abuse with other forms of domestic violence:
- Using physical force, or threat of violence, to get money.
- Providing money for sexual activity.
- Controlling access to a telephone, vehicle or ability to go shopping; other forms of isolation.
- Threatening to evict the spouse and children from the house without financial support.
- Exploiting the victim's economic disadvantage.
- Destroying or taking resources from the spouse and/or children.
- Blaming the victim for an inability to manage money; or instigating other forms of economic abuse, such as destruction of property.
There are several ways that abusers may impact a victim's economic resources. As mentioned earlier, the abuser may prevent the victim from working or make it very difficult to maintain a job. They may likewise impede their ability to obtain an education. Frequent phone calls, surprise visits and other harassing activities interfere with the spouse's work performance. In couples where the spouse is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning of their sexuality (LBGTQ), the abuser may threaten to "out them" with their employer.
- 25% – 50% of victims of abuse from a partner have lost their job due to domestic violence.
- 35% – 56% of victims of domestic violence are harassed at work by their partners.
Impact of lack of economic resources
By denying the victim access to money, such as forbidding the victim from maintaining a bank account, he or she is totally financially dependent upon the abuser for shelter, food, clothing and other necessities. In some cases the abuser may withhold those necessities, also including medicine and personal hygiene products. They may also greatly limit their ability to leave the abusive situation by refusing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support.
Abusers may also use force their spouses to obtain credit and then through negligent activities ruin their credit rating and ability to get credit.
Managing economic abuse
There are several ways to manage economic abuse: ensure one has safe access to important personal and financial records, ensure one's research activities are not traceable and, if you believe you are going to leave the relationship, prepare ahead of time.
Role in elder abuse
The elderly are sometimes victims of financial abuse from people within their family:
- Money or property is used without their permission or taken from them
- Their signature is forged for financial transactions
- Coerced or influence to sign over deeds, wills or power of attorney
- Deceived into believing that money is exchanged for the promise of lifelong care
Family members engaged in financial abuse of the elderly may include spouses, children, or grandchildren. They may engage in the activity because they feel justified, for instance, they are taking what they might later inherit or have a sense of "entitlement" due to a negative personal relationship with the older person. Or they may take money or property to prevent other family members from getting the money or for fear that their inheritance may be lost due to cost of treating illnesses. Sometimes, family members take money or property from their elders because of gambling or other financial problems or substance abuse.
It is estimated that there may be 5 million elderly citizens of the United States subject to financial abuse each year.
The Survivors’ Empowerment and Economic Security Act was introduced by the 110th United States Congress to the Senate (S. 1136) and House of Representatives (H.R. 2395) to allow for greater economic freedom for domestic violence victims by providing short-term emergency benefits where needed, guaranteeing employment leave and unemployment compensation, and prohibit insurance restriction or job discrimination to domestic violence victims.
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