Earlier this month, we talked here on TFD about our collaboration with the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, an organization to help women who have been domestically abused, with a focus on financial abuse. It’s a subject that no one likes to talk about – and a type of abuse that few people even think of – but financial abuse factors into 98% of all domestic abuse situations. When a woman loses control of her purse, so to speak, she loses control over nearly everything.
To help start the conversation, and hear from someone who actually experienced a financially abusive relationship, TFD reader Sarah* spoke to us about what it was like being in, and getting out of, one of these horrifying situations. And in support of the Purple Purse Challenge, a month-long fundraising initiative that directly benefits charities that support domestic violence survivors, she was kind enough to answer a few more questions for me, to help illuminate all of us on how we can be better support systems to loved ones who might be suffering, and how we can open the conversation to a topic that no one ever wants to talk about.
This is Sarah’s advice for all of us.
TFD: When you were in a financially abusive relationship, what would have helped you? What is something your friends and family could have done to be more of a support system for you?
Sarah: Honestly, the biggest thing is that I wish someone had asked me. It sounds stupid because obviously I could have said something, but there is a lot of shame around not being in control of your own money, or being in an abusive situation, so I never felt that courage to speak up and say ‘Hey, this is going on in my life.’ But I feel like if someone had asked me straight-on, I would have probably broken down and said something. It’s about […] leaving that door open.
TFD: How might they have known to ask you? Do you think they were aware – what are signs that they could have looked out for?
Sarah: That’s fair, I don’t know if they suspected enough to ask me. But as far as signs, the biggest one for me was having to ask permission. If someone is constantly having to check in with a partner about money, even for little things, that’s almost never healthy. But I think in general we should ask each other about our finances in terms of our relationships. I think we should check in on our friends and family and make sure they feel okay. Just like you might be like ‘How are things at home?’, you should ask ‘How do you guys split your finances, how do you make it work?’
TFD: Do you think that a taboo?
Sarah: Yes. But at one time talking about anything physical was a taboo, too, and that’s over. We have to make it not taboo.
TFD: Do you ask your friends now about their financial lives?
Sarah: Always. If I have a friend who is getting serious with someone, I will ask them if they have a plan. I always believe in prenups, in protecting yourself. I ask my girlfriends (and male friends, too) if they feel secure and independent.
TFD: What about people who are supported by a spouse?
Sarah: Independence doesn’t mean that you are supporting yourself, necessarily. It means freedom to make your own decisions. It means that you can say ‘This isn’t right,’ and make a change. It means you can leave. I wasn’t independent.
TFD: What is the most important thing someone can do if they suspect a loved one is being financially abused?
Sarah: Tell them, simply – and not in writing, or over the phone, only in person – that you will help them if they ever need anything. Tell them they can sleep on your couch, or live with you for a while, or you will help them financially in any way you can. Let them know that they have that support.
There is a good chance that someone you know has been financially abused or controlled in their life, or that they are currently in a situation like the above. And while it’s not always possible for us to save our friends and family, the biggest thing we can do, for ourselves and the millions of victims of domestic violence and financial abuse, is to talk about it. The longer we keep this huge element of control and terror taboo, and the longer we forget that money and access to money is often the biggest way to ensure someone cannot leave, the more our own purse strings will be used as weapons.
Visit purplepurse.com for more information, and help take financial abuse out of the dark.