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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

The Triple Threat of Intimate Partner Violence

12/16/14 01:39 PM | Tarah Johnson | Trauma, Social Justice

We are all familiar with the huge emotional and physical tolls that men and women in abusive relationships face, but there’s another just as damaging aspect of intimate partner violence that is often underestimated and overlooked. Financial abuse/manipulation by an intimate partner not only reinforces the physical and emotional violence inflicted, but can add another layer. Combined, emotional, physical and financial abuse by an intimate partner is a triple threat that many men and women face on a daily basis.

The recent CNN Money article “Stuck in cycle of debt, domestic violence victims battle banks” shines light on some women’s experiences with financial abuse/manipulation as part of intimate partner violence. The article highlights the ways in which the current banking system perpetuates the financial manipulations that abusive partners inflict. If a couple is married, both spouses are responsible for all debts, and there are few legal protections against this. Often abusive partners use access to credit cards and joint funds to their advantage and either run up debt or withhold access to funds as punishment for their partners attempts to escape an abusive relationship. Many women are susceptible to the financial abuse/manipulations of partners, as they often financially depend on their partners and tend to make less money.

Reading this story, and thinking about my own experience with intimate partner violence, I was inspired to share my story, and give voice to the countless other stories of men and women who have been emotionally, physically, and financially violated by their intimate partners.

I met my ex-husband literally on the first day of college, during freshman orientation. From the day we met, we became known around campus as ‘the married couple’. He was my first boyfriend, and my lack of dating experience and my introversion blinded me to many of the warning signs that ultimately led to a cycle of emotional, physical and financial abuse.

One day I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I made a plan to leave. Thankfully, I had a network of generous and caring friends, and I was able to couch surf for several months. If I hadn’t had such good friends, I would have literally been on the street. Despite having a job, I simply did not have enough money to get a place of my own. Renting an apartment required that I pay first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. In New York City that seemed unattainable, considering I only made $15/hour, had credit card debt from my husband, and less than $100 in my bank account. I spent most of 2011 living paycheck to paycheck, moving from friend’s couch to friend’s couch, and trying to save enough money to get a place (or just a room) of my own. Ultimately I decided to move back home to live with my family.

The financial stress of being in an abusive relationship reinforced much of the emotional and physical stress that I felt. Four years later, I’m still feeling the financial and emotional effects of that relationship. I’m thankful to the friends and family who let me stay on their couches, who took me out to dinner, who lent me grocery money, and the immeasurable help I received both financially and emotionally through a very difficult time in my life. I’m thankful for my coworkers who encouraged me not to give up, and who made work a sanctuary from the stress of my personal life. Most of all, I’m thankful I survived.

[pullquote]Most of all, I’m thankful I survived.[/pullquote]

Many women are not as lucky as I was. I didn’t have any kids and I had a network of family and friends who supported me throughout my journey, even if they didn’t know the extent to which I was suffering. Many women end up in shelters, lose their jobs, and even lose their children as they navigate the physical, emotional and financial obstacles in starting over. Many women die, the story of their physical, emotional, and financial stress untold.

Financial abuse/manipulation can be just as hard to overcome as emotional abuse and often re-traumatizes victims on their road to the recovery. Several initiatives and proposed legislative actions focus on helping men and women identify, address, and legally rectify the financial abuse/manipulation they experience from abusive partners. A multipronged approach is needed that acknowledges both the micro realities of overcoming financial abuse/manipulation, and the macro realities that allow such financial abuse/manipulations to be inflicted by intimate partners. The only way to help men and women both today and in the future is to help them address their immediate needs such as housing, food and security, and to address the structural and bank regulations that perpetuate the cycle of financial abuse and manipulation.


Image by Greg Dunlap / CC BY 2.0

Tarah Johnson

Written by Tarah Johnson

Tarah’s work is focused on substance use and mental health recovery. She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from Howard University and a master’s degree in Latin American history and anthropology from University of New Mexico.