When we discuss the effects and types of domestic abuse, there is one component we often overlook: financial abuse.
Financial abuse (or economic abuse) is defined by the U.S. Office on Women’s Health as “when an abuser has control over finances in a relationship and withholds money from the victim.”
Now, as an ambassador for The Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse Project, Serena Williams is trying to shine a light on this little-considered aspect of abuse. As reported by working women’s empowerment site Fairy Godboss:
“When you realize that 1 in 4 women are affected by domestic abuse and 99 percent of that number are affected by financial abuse, it’s crazy. There’s no reason we should have stats like this (pdf).”
As a survivor of an abusive relationship in my early 20s, I can personally attest to the way finances can be used to manipulate and control. After naively agreeing to share all of my finances with my then-partner, I was subsequently forced to ask permission before making even the most minor purchase, and not even allowed checks in my own name—despite being the higher breadwinner in the relationship.
That type of control also makes it extremely difficult to leave an abusive situation; in my case, it took months of planning, strategy, and, after overcoming my shame, a loan from my father that allowed me to open a secret bank account. But the access I’d given my abuser would continue to haunt me years after our parting; he’d later use my account information to commit fraud, putting me in both financial and legal jeopardy.
And as Williams notes, my experience is unfortunately not uncommon.
“More than likely, we all know someone who has been affected by this issue,” she said. “But not enough people are aware of it, and not enough change is happening.”
The Purple Purse Project was launched in 2005 to raise awareness, and has since helped over 1.3 million domestic violence survivors become financially independent, providing online resources to help them establish credit, receive counseling and budget for living expenses and childcare.
This summer, the project is debuting a series of murals across America in hopes of educating the masses about financial abuse. Viewers are encouraged to share the photos of the murals on social media using the hashtag #SafeWayOut. The hope is that the heightened visibility will spark much-needed conversations about financial abuse, make the easier to recognize, and empower victims to escape, knowing that recovery is possible.
Williams attended the unveiling of the first mural in New York City. Speaking on the project, she said:
I am proud to use my voice and influence to bring more awareness to financial abuse so people can get involved and make positive change in their communities. As the public becomes more comfortable talking about domestic violence and financial abuse, it will also become easier to spot the signs, help a victim or stand up to an abuser.