Studies show that financial abuse is a sinister form of emotional abuse, but is sometimes not recognized as such by targeted individuals - mostly women.
According to data from the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Program, financial abuse plays a role in 99% of all domestic violence situations, yet only 22% of all Americans have heard about the issue.
In a word, financial abuse occurs when the abuser, almost always a male, uses a household's personal finances to establish and maintain leverage over a spouse.
Lisa Kindel knows all about financial abuse - from personal experience.
"After taking money from my account for cigarettes, I forced my ex-spouse to get a
bank account a year before he left," says Kindel, owner of LRKindel Media in Frankfort, Ken. "This infuriated him - he wanted to know why he couldn't use my bank account."
Kindel says that every month, the couple would go over bills that needed to be paid and mapped out a plan that left him with enough money for his needs and wants, but it was never enough.
"Food money started disappearing," she recalls. "I couldn't get gas one day, until I scraped some change up from the floorboards of my car. Yet, he had enough for cigarettes and energy drinks. We were always late paying bills and often called our mothers for money. I sold family antiques to cover rent more than once."
After her spouse left, Kindel says she felt a huge burden had been lifted. "I breathed a hefty sigh of relief - I couldn't support him anymore, financially or emotionally," she says. "Now I'm financially stable, pay bills early and save more money. And he's being chased by creditors and has a wage garnishment issue that I knew nothing about."
Like Kindel, women need to recognize the signs of financial abuse. These five "red flags" top the lists of financial abuses against women.
Financial accounts are hard to access. If you find that you're blocked from reviewing household accounts, you could be experiencing financial abuse. "Any signs that your financial accounts and information are hard to get, or financial topics and paperwork are kept secret, are signs of financial abuse," says Liz Crystal, owner of The LC Group, a personal bookkeeping and daily money-management services firm.
Changing the subject or completely shutting down any money talk. Spouses who are doing bad things with money rarely want to talk about finances with their partner, says Ed Vargo, founder of Burning River Advisory Group. "It's easier to live the lie than it is to openly talk about it," he notes. Vargo advises women to avoid being an "easy target" of such abuse and to stand your ground. "Yes, you may have conflict but you also have a chance at a resolution," he states. "If this doesn't work, it may be a sign that something more sinister is going on behind the scenes."
Only giving a spouse a limited amount of money per month to spend. This form of financial abuse usually happens in single-income households, Vargo says. "The husband has his paycheck directly deposited into his personal checking account and only transfers a small amount of money to the joint checking account," he explains. "This is one way people use money as a weapon. If you don't do what they say, you won't get any money from them. All the power resides with one person." Vargo says the solution here is to have all income deposited into a joint account.
Feeling embarrassed. "When a woman fearfully hides anything new she buys as a treat for herself because she knows that her spouse will always find a way of embarrassing her, that's a form of financial abuse," says Deborah Sawyerr, a financial abuse survivor and founder of Sawyerr's House, an organization that educates women who have experienced domestic abuse to create their own wealth. "For example, instead of the spouse truthfully complimenting her on looking good in the new item, he will call her names and accuse her of being wasteful."
He threatens to leave. One common and cruel form of financial abuse is when a spouse says he'll leave if he doesn't get his own way on household finances. "Here, your partner threatens to take off and leave you with nothing if you don't do what they want," says April Davis, president of LUMA, a luxury matchmaking service. To pull the plug on that issue, Davis advises taking matters into your own hands before a spouse threatens to leave. "Keep finance separate even when you're married," she says. "If you do decide to combine finances, you need to set a budget for miscellaneous expenses so then you know where the boundaries are."
Financial abuse can take a toll on even the strongest women, so speak up when it's happening to you. Talk to a family member, friend or a trusted financial advisor if you feel you're being victimized by financial abuse.
"The truth is that because women juggle so much, often the man takes care of the family finances," says Crystal. "When women don't feel they have a voice, they tend to assume that what they are experiencing is normal."
The reality is, unfortunately, financial abuse is all too real and needs to be addressed before a woman's financial health is ruined for good.