Economic Abuse

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An Underrecognized and Underreported Form of Interpersonal Violence, with Lifelong Repercussions

More than 96% of women who have experienced domestic violence have also experienced economic abuse. Why then do so few of us know what economic abuse is, or even how to spot it

Emotional and physical abuse are the most widely acknowledged forms of intimate partner violence, likely because their consequences can be visible and the long-term trauma from emotional or physical violence is more intuitively understandable than the long-term effects of economic abuse.

However, economic abuse has devastating and long-lasting repercussions in a survivor’s life, too. The Canadian Centre For Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) defines economic abuse as “a deliberate pattern of control in which individuals interfere with their partner’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources”.

Economic abuse can take on many forms. It may mean that a survivor is blocked from having their own career or pursuing education or training that would lead to economic independence. In many cases, abusers rack up mountains of debt in the survivor’s name — destroying their credit score. It can mean restricting access to essential resources such as food, clothing, and transportation. It could also take the form of tracking the survivor’s spending, denying them a bank account, or lying about shared assets. Economic abuse is a form of control that drastically increases the difficulty of leaving an abusive relationship, as moving and setting up a safe home are often costly endeavours, especially when children are involved.

Experiences of Economic Abuse

For one woman who shared her story with the Ottawa Citizen, economic abuse affected every aspect of her life. After “Sarah” (not the survivor’s real name) was given a promotion that would have resulted in her earning more than her ex-husband, he forced the whole family to move to another town. There, Sarah was separated from her support network, and worked as a stay-at-home mom with no income of her own. Her ex-husband made it clear that everything was “his” money and began to spend recklessly on himself; Sarah would have to hide money away to pay the bills and buy groceries for the family. A few months before he threw her out, her ex-husband decided he was no longer paying for Sarah to eat. He kept an aggressive count of the food and would blow up at Sarah if she ate a single item from the fridge so that she was forced to survive on popcorn for almost six months.

Sarah’s ex-husband racked up $30,000 of debt on credit cards he forced her to take out in her maiden name. This is a form of “coerced debt” that results in survivors having their credit ratings ruined, and often makes it impossible for them to get loans, credit cards, and housing for long after they have left an abuser.

Recognizing Economic Abuse

One of the most insidious aspects of economic abuse is that it is incredibly underreported and underrecognized as a form of abuse. Because of this, it can be difficult for survivors and those around them to recognize the signs of economic abuse and, once they do, to know what to do about it. This is a large part of why the Canadian Centre For Women’s Empowerment was founded.

The CCFWE’s mission is to “work collaboratively with organizations and individuals to develop a comprehensive approach that enables domestic violence survivors to recover from economic abuse”. This includes addressing current gaps in funding and policies and campaigning for economic abuse to be included in Canada’s Gender-Based Violence strategy. 

The CCFWE is calling on the public to become aware of the signs of economic abuse and to increase awareness by sharing their campaign on social media with the hashtag #HelpUsRise.

To learn more about economic abuse, what the CCFWE is doing to combat it, and how you can help, visit www.ccfwe.org.

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