Q&A: Overcoming the Impact of Economic Abuse

This week, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are focusing Unsheltered Voices on URI’s Working Internship Network (WIN) program and highlighting the critical role economic empowerment plays in helping survivors heal. Abbie Tuller is our Senior Director of Domestic Violence Special Programs and Tier II Shelters and it is her work around economic abuse that has helped our clients embark on the road to self-sufficiency. Read on for a Q&A with Abbie to learn more about our economic empowerment programs, including WIN.
  1. When people thing about domestic abuse most associate it with violence– but abuse takes many different forms. Can you explain what economic abuse is, how prevalent it is, and the sort of devastating impact has?

Economic abuse is extremely prevalent and takes many different forms. For instance, economic abuse may come in the form of not being allowed to work or being allowed to work but having to hand over one’s paycheck to their partner. As with other forms of abuse, power and control are at the core of economic abuse so we can think about this form of abuse as not being able to make decisions or have control of one’s own economic situation. As a result of this, individuals’ independence and agency are diminished. These impacts have ripple effects on one’s self esteem and self-concept which are further reinforced by verbal, psychological and physical abuse.

2) Can you give me an estimate on the % of survivors in our shelters that have been a victim of domestic abuse and how you identify it?

We know economic abuse impacts over 98% of survivors. While everyone’s experience is unique we often assume that a survivor has experienced some form of economic abuse and then learn more about the specifics as our relationship with the survivor grows. Once the forms of abuse are identified we are able to provide targeted support in a particular area whether it be career development or financial education and planning.

3) What sort of services and programs does URI offer to help them overcome consequences of being economically disempowered?

In URI’s shelters we offer services within our Economic Empowerment Programs that assist survivors in overcoming economic abuse in a variety of ways. First, we assess the forms of economic abuse they have experienced, help survivors identify their strengths and set meaningful and attainable goals. Through this process we are able to refer them to the appropriate programs that can assist them in meeting their goals.

Internally, we offer an exciting program called the Working Internship Network, or WIN program. This program provides a brief but impactful workshop series that prepares survivors to reenter the workplace. They learn about soft skills while also exploring the impact economic abuse has had on their self-image and ultimately their career trajectories. Collectively as a cohort they work toward supporting each other on their next part of their journey, which includes a 7 week internship within the agency. At these internship they are able to test our newly acquired skills and gain a greater confidence in the workplace setting.

4) What are some of the biggest challenges these women face in building up their economic independence?

There are several challenges individuals face when trying to become economically independent. For instance, individuals may lack training in specific job sectors in order to be marketable, lack of knowledge and/or educational requirements and also lack of access to opportunities. Additionally, one’s self-esteem and confidence is often impacted by domestic violence which extends to their thoughts and feelings about reentering the workforce. Through the WIN program we address self-confidence and also create access to opportunities. Additionally, we assist survivors in developing a plan for their financial independence.

5) What are some of the warning signs of economic abuse that people should be looking out for?

There are a few questions people should continually ask themselves:

· Are you kept on a very strict budget or allowance?

· Are you restricted from obtaining steady employment?

· Is your abuser running up debt on your credit cards to ruin your credit?

Economic abuse can impact victims’ lives in extremely detrimental ways long after they have left the abusive situation. Seven out of 8 women who return to their abuser do so because of financial pressures they face as a result of economic abuse, so it is critically that the support and services are in place to prevent that from happening.