Financial Abuse: The Overlooked Root of Domestic Violence

Abuse doesn’t start with a burned down house, a black eye, or police cars rushing down the road. While this dominates headlines, the majority of domestic abuse starts rather silently. The simple tearing up of a check or uttering the word “no” can signal the start of a terrorizing relationship.

There is the oft-cited statistic that one in four women has been physically hurt by their boyfriend or husband. What many fail to realize is that this can be tied to your checkbook or purse. Financial or economic abuse plays a part in 98% of domestic violence cases. Whether we realize it or not, this problem affects every socioeconomic bracket, and is most likely happening in your neighborhood.

Financial abuse is a slippery slope. And it can happen innocuously. A once successful business woman can wake up one day with her credit cards maxed out and her savings gone — with no one to rely on but her abuser.

He can start by saying “I’m better at saving, so I’ll take care of the bills”

or berate her for buying an expensive dress. It can end with the victim being forced to plead for basic necessities like food or toiletries.

It can mean deciding whether to feed your son or starve while living in an upper-class suburb. After slowly giving more and more control, you might realize this has gone too far — but it’s too late.

For a mother who hasn’t worked in ten years, and has given up all control (financially and emotionally) it can be a daunting, almost impossible, task to suddenly escape and become independent. And her abuser knows it. Abusers create or foment the situations that deprive women of those means and resources. Financial abuse is a catch-22. A woman will often have to choose between staying in an abusive relationship, or facing homelessness and poverty.

Sadly, most women end up going back to their abuser. Because they are trapped in a financial prison, 7 out of 8 women will go back to their partner. Money is often the only thing a woman needs to break free from the bondage of cyclic abuse.

High profile cases may have brought the issue to the forefront of the public eye, but have done little to help. After a backlash of negative publicity last year, the NFL pledged to take a stronger stance and end domestic violence in its league, yet we’ve still seen players commit atrocities with little consequence.

Greg Hardy was suspended a mere four games after being found guilty assaulting his girlfriend. He made headlines this week for returning to the field as a star player only months after dragging his girlfriend around by the hair and finally violently throwing her onto a pile of rifles on his couch. And in this week alone we’ve also seen Johnny Manziel’s girlfriend telling officers that Manziel “pushed her head against the glass of the car” and “hit her a couple of times in the car.”

After hearing the news on domestic violence, many focus on why women won’t leave these abusive relationships.

The question we should be asking is “how can we empower women and give them the means to leave?”

Knowledge seems to be part of the key. According to a long-term study by The Center for Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University, abused women who participated in a financial education curriculum were twice as likely to take the financial steps necessary to rebuild their lives. Additionally, women who completed the training reported a nearly 10 percent higher quality of life than those who did not receive it, and reported feeling more safe, independent and free.

Now is the time to for the world to start paying attention to the lack of financial empowerment and knowledge with women. Because even in today’s progressive age, women only make up 17.6% of executive officers in finance. And women severely lack financial knowledge, especially when compared to men. One Wall Street Journal study found only 22% of women correctly answered a simple 3 question multiple choice quiz on finance.

My main reason for founding LexION Capital, an independent and uniquely woman-focused wealth management firm, is to empower women financially. Both personal and professional observations have informed my perspective on financial control and its meaning within abusive relationships. Simply from knowledge of my own network, I can attest that the one in four statistic is, very sadly, alive and well. Further, I have worked over a dozen years in banking, experience in private banking, asset management, and as an investment advisor to numerous couples. I’ve seen firsthand how the destructive impact of financial abuse holds true across all levels of socioeconomic status.

One-sided knowledge and control about a couple’s or family’s finances is a dynamic that will never exist at our firm. Moreover, it is one we actively work against. For LexION Capital, it’s about more than being different than the “old boys’ club” of Wall Street; it’s about creating a safe haven for all. People don’t connect the idea of money on Wall Street with violence, but the link is clear.

Together, we can band together and make this an issue that’s been tackled, rather than a shocking revelation. I’m hoping you’ll join me in this vital fight to construct empowerment and create equality for women in finance. There are numerous organizations that would love to benefit from your helping hand.

If you know someone who is suffering from domestic violence, there are resources and ways you can help. Together, we can make domestic violence a thing of the past.

Image by © Rick Gomez/Corbis