I was totally financially dependent on my husband, and that’s ultimately what he wanted.
— African American Survivor, Meeting Survivors’ Needs through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services & Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study by NRCDV (November 2011)
Implications for victim-defined advocacy
Offer strategies that improve the victim’s financial independence
These strategies may make it possible for some victims to leave a partner who batters and allow some victims to be on a more equal and safer footing if they remain.
- Understand how money is used to control the victim: Does he make all the financial decisions? Does he keep her from having any money? Does he keep financial information from her? Does he keep her from working or advancing? Does he unnecessarily run up debt? Ruin her credit?
- Reduce money as a tactic of abuse: Are there ways to increase her access to the money and financial information, increase her knowledge about money, put money out of his control, reduce his opportunity to run up her liabilities?
- Increase a victim’s income and assets: What might help: a job, better job, education/training for a better job, transportation, chance to reduce debts, chance to save money, unemployment compensation, access to government benefits, housing subsidies, health care, child support?
- Offer options that respond to the victim’s culture and life experiences around money: How does she view money? Debt? Is money a private matter? What is her current standard of living? Did she grow up in poverty or with more resources? In her view, do men and women have different roles around money? Does she believe men should earn the money (be the “breadwinner”)?
Explore the financial impact of strategies to reduce or escape violence
Will the strategy cause her to lose her job or reduce income? Does it affect her eligibility for government benefits or programs? Does it affect her housing or health insurance?
If the victim needs to share expenses and her partner’s income then how will the strategy affect that arrangement? Will it cause her partner/ex-partner to lose his job or reduce income? Will it force her to pay for all housing costs? Will she lose an affordable apartment?
Be prepared to advocate with victims living in poverty
Poverty and a partner who batters make life hard for victims. The intertwined issues make it more difficult for advocates to help victims make things better. Victims living in poverty face risks from their partner and from the effects of living in poverty. Few resources and the violence and control of a partner leave few or no options to be safe.
- Offer more: Provide options and strategies that victims need and the resources they need to access them. Not just the referral but the ride there. Not just the phone number of the court but access to a phone. In a time of decreased funding and strained budgets, offering more may seem impossible. Consider exploring agency priorities and new advocacy approaches.
- Understand that domestic violence may not be the priority: The victim’s primary safety concern may necessarily be food, shelter, and other basic needs. As victim-defined advocates, her priority is our priority. We will also offer information and options to respond to the violence.
- Advocate for victims who remain in their relationship: Many victims living in poverty simply do not have the resources or option to leave a relationship. They deserve and need advocacy that may enhance their safety.
- What happens to her partner will affect the victim and her children: Interventions directed at a partner who batters will have consequences for the victim and her children. What happens to him may affect their physical safety, their family, and their finances. Victims living in poverty have no financial buffer. Ask if the intervention with him will cause a financial crisis for the family. Will they lose housing? Have enough for necessities? What are the implications and options then?
Collaborate with programs and people that offer resources or assistance on financial issues
You will be better able to assist victims with financial issues if you have good working relationships with people who work in related programs. These programs might include: government benefits, housing and homelessness, employment services, health care, tax assistance, child advocacy, child support services, foreclosure programs, legal aid, anti-poverty, faith based, and energy assistance. As part of the collaboration, explain how financial issues and needs impact the safety of victims, the barriers to assistance victims face, and how they can help.