Perhaps you’ve heard that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It’s a staggering statistic. Here’s the part you probably don’t know: 99% of those cases will involve some form of financial abuse.
Serena Williams wants to do something about that. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Williams has partnered for the third time with the Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse initiative to raise awareness around the rampant problem of financial abuse in relationships. “She is the embodiment of women’s empowerment,” Allstate Foundation senior program officer Ellen Lisak says. “We’ve been so grateful she has brought her influential voice and platform to our program to help elevate a national conversation around these issues that are so unknown to so many people.”
“When I signed up three years ago, I was really shocked by the statistics,” Williams told Glamour. “It’s basically every single case [of domestic violence]. When you think about that way, it’s like, How did I not know about it? What can I do to bring my voice to it and talk about it?
“I hope that people can learn the common signs of financial abuse and that if people are victims, they know that there are resources like purplepurse.com out there to help,” she continues. “I want people to know about the horrors of financial abuse.” Through her partnership with Allstate’s Purple Purse, she’s had the opportunity to talk with survivors, something that has been very meaningful to her. “I feel really lucky to be among such powerful women,” Williams says. “It’s important for me to use my voice to support them and help tell their stories. Together we can help other women.”
“Victims of domestic violence are often asked, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ and what we found is that financial abuse is one of the reasons. We found that domestic violence happens to one in four women, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, and 99% of those cases also involve financial abuse,” Lisak tells Glamour. “It is one of the main reasons that victims remain in or return to an abusive relationship.
“It can take on many forms, depending on the situation, but some examples include when an abuser prevents a victim from working, or they really limit their access to money or credit cards, or they even intentionally ruin their credit,” she continues. “If you have bad credit, you can’t get an apartment. If you’re not working, you’re not bringing in income and you’re kind of stuck in this vicious cycle.”
So in 2005 the Allstate Foundation decided to get involved, thinking it could bring its expertise and resources as a financial services provider to the issue. Since then it has invested more than $66 million dollars in the Purple Purse program and helped more than 1.7 million survivors. Lisak says the latest campaign, No Financial Abuse, No Domestic Violence, which launched in August, is hoping to educate the public about the signs of financial abuse, help people feel comfortable having conversations about the epidemic, and remove the social stigma around it.
So what are some of those signs to look out for? Lisak explains that they are often hard to see because financial abuse is used as an “invisible weapon” and doesn’t come with visible wounds so often associated with domestic violence. But here are things to watch out for.
Restricted spending: When a partner severely limits and controls how money is dispersed in a relationship, perhaps by demanding receipts for any money spent. The victim may get excessively worried about how their partner will react to even the smallest household spending.
Stealing money: When a partner is using the person’s credit card, check book, or ATM card without their knowledge.
Preventing access to financial accounts: Is one partner locked out of shared accounts?
Sabotage of education or employment: When a partner is preventing the person from going to school or work as a means of control.
Exclusion from financial planning: Is the person being left out of all the major decisions about money in the household?
Causing debt: Is a partner refusing to pay the bills and running up the credit cards?
Susan, a survivor, who asked that we not use her last name, was living far from her family when she entered into a new relationship. She was in grad school and working full-time, but her partner eventually stopped contributing financially. “I had the good income. I had the good credit, and everything was in my name when we moved in together, so my choice was either to let that be ruined or to just work more,” she tells us. “I tried to do that, but when you’re going to school full time and working full time, it’s very difficult. So eventually things started slipping.”
In Susan’s case, the abuse escalated into a night of violence, at which point her partner was arrested and entered a mental health facility. “The thing is, when somebody speaks about your partner, even if you know that there are issues there, you get defensive. So don't make it about the abuser; make it about the survivor,” Susan says. “Focus on their needs and how you can support them and help them. Judgment’s a big thing that makes people defensive. It’s important to say, ‘I’m only bringing this up because I care, and I’ll support you however I can.’”
Lisak adds that there are several resources listed on the Purple Purse website to help start these tough conversations, and that the National Domestic Violence hotline is always available to help you find local shelters and experts if necessary.
After a period of time, Susan was able to get back on her feet, but she has advice for other women out there. “I think it’s really important for young women, in particular, to know about finance and understand about financial intimacy with a partner,” she says. “I think that we just think that’s something we’ll automatically know how to handle well or we’ll handle it the way our parents or grandparents did. But it’s a different world, and we need to look at, you know, what is the financial status is of the person that [you’re] getting into a relationship with.”
“It’s always important to keep control of your finances,” Williams says. “And to keep an eye out for little things and trust yourself and your instincts.”
To learn more about financial abuse and how to get help, go to purplepurse.com.
Originally Appeared on Glamour