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Economic abuse

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Title: Economic abuse  
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Subject: Domestic violence, Outline of domestic violence, Intimate partner violence, Domestic violence in the United States, Domestic violence in Panama
Collection: Abuse
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Economic abuse

Economic abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources,[1] which diminishes the victim's capacity to support him/herself and forces him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially.[1][2][3]

It is related, or also known as, financial abuse, which is the illegal or unauthorized use of a person’s property, money, pension book or other valuables (including changing the person's will to name the abuser as heir), often fraudulently obtaining power of attorney, followed by deprivation of money or other property, or by eviction from own home. Financial abuse applies to both elder abuse and domestic violence.[4]

A key distinction between economic abuse and financial abuse is that economic abuse also includes the control of someone's present or future earning potential by preventing them from obtaining a job or education.


  • Role in domestic violence 1
    • A controlling mechanism 1.1
    • Job-related impacts 1.2
    • Impact of lack of economic resources 1.3
    • Managing economic abuse 1.4
  • Role in elder abuse 2
  • Laws 3
    • United States 3.1
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5

Role in domestic violence

Economic abuse in a domestic situation may involve:

  • preventing a spouse from resource acquisition, such as restricting their ability to find employment, maintain or advance their careers, and acquire assets
  • preventing the victim from obtaining education
  • spend victim's money without his/her consent and creating debt, or completely spend victim's savings to limit available resources
  • exploiting economic resources of the victim[1][2][3]

In its extreme (and usual) form, this involves putting the victim on a strict "allowance," withholding money at will and forcing the victim to beg for the money until the abuser gives the victim some money. It is common for the victim to receive less money as the abuse continues. This also includes (but is not limited to) preventing the victim from finishing education or obtaining employment, or intentionally squandering or misusing communal resources.[5]

A controlling mechanism

Economic abuse is often used as a controlling mechanism as part of a larger pattern of domestic abuse, which may include verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse may include threats or attempts to kill the spouse. By restricting the victims access to economic resources, the offender has limited recourses to exit the violent relationship.[6]

The following are ways that abusers may use economic abuse with other forms of domestic violence:

  • Using physical force, or threat of violence, to get money.
  • Providing money for sexual activity.
  • Controlling access to a telephone, automobiles or ability to go shopping, forms of isolation.
  • Threatening to remove their spouse and children from the house without financial support.
  • Exploiting the victims economic disadvantage.
  • Destroying or taking resources from the spouse and/or children.
  • Blaming that it is done because the spouse cannot manage money, let's the offender do it, or that the spouse instigates forms of economic abuse, such as destruction of property.[6]

Victimization occurs across all socio-economic levels, and when victims are asked why they stay in abusive relationships, lack of income is a common response.[7]

Job-related impacts

There are several ways that abusers may impact a victim's economic resources. As mentioned earlier, the abuser may refuse the victim to work or make it very difficult to maintain a job. They may likewise impede their ability to obtain an education. Frequent phone calls, surprise visits and other harassing activities interfere with the spouse's work performance. In couples where the spouse is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning of their sexuality (LBGTQ), the abuser may threaten to "out them" with their employer.[7]

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the United States reports that:

  • 25% – 50% of victims of abuse from a partner have lost their job due to domestic violence.
  • 35% – 56% of victims of domestic violence are harassed at work by their partners.[7]

Impact of lack of economic resources

By denying the victim access to money, such as forbidding the victim from maintaining a bank account, he or she is totally financially dependent upon the abuser for shelter, food, clothing and other necessities. In some cases the abuser may withhold those necessities, also including medicine and personal hygiene products. They may also greatly limit their ability to leave the abusive situation by refusing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support.[7]

Abusers may also use force their spouse to obtain credit and then through negligent activities ruin their credit rating and ability to get credit.[7]

Managing economic abuse

There are several ways to manage economic abuse: ensure you have safe access to important personal and financial records, ensure your research activities are not traceable and, if you believe you are going to leave the relationship, prepare ahead of time.[7]

Role in elder abuse

The elderly are sometimes victims of financial abuse from people within their family:

  • Money or property is used without their permission or taken from them
  • Their signature is forged for financial transactions
  • Coerced or influence to sign over deeds, wills or power of attorney
  • Deceived into believing that money is exchanged for the promise of lifelong care[8]

Family members engaged in financial abuse of the elderly may include spouses, children, or grandchildren. They may engage in the activity because they feel justified, for instance, they are taking what they might later inherit or have a sense of "entitlement" due to a negative personal relationship with the older person. Or they may take money or property to prevent other family members from getting the money or for fear that their inheritance may be lost due to cost of treating illnesses. Sometimes, family members take money or property from their elders because of gambling or other financial problems or substance abuse.[8]

It is estimated that there may be 5 million elderly citizens of the United States subject to financial abuse each year.[7]


United States

The Survivors’ Empowerment and Economic Security Act was introduced by the 110th United States Congress to the Senate (S. 1136) and House of Representatives (H.R. 2395) to allow for greater economic freedom for domestic violence victims by providing short-term emergency benefits where needed, guaranteeing employment leave and unemployment compensation, and prohibit insurance restriction or job discrimination to domestic violence victims.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Adams, Adrienne; Sullivan, Bybee, Greeson (May 2008). "Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse". Violence Against Women 14 (5): 563–588.  
  2. ^ a b Brewster, M. P. (2003). "Power and Control Dynamics in Pre-stalking and Stalking Situations". Journal of Family Violence 18 (4): 207–217.  
  3. ^ a b Sanders, Cynthia. "Organizing for Economic Empowerment of Battered Women: Women’s Savings Accounts". Center for Social Development, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University. 
  4. ^ Carnot, Edward J. (2003)Is Your Parent in Good Hands?: Protecting Your Aging Parent from Financial Abuse and Neglect (Capital Books ).
  5. ^ "Economic Abuse." BSAFE. Sept. 6, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Economic abuse wheel. Women's Domestic Abuse Helpline. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Economic Abuse. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Financial Abuse. National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA). 2008. Retrieved November 20, 2011.

Further reading

  • Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar. (2007). On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance. Adams Business. ISBN 1-59869-124-4.
  • Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar. (2009). Getting Financially Naked: How To Talk Money With Your Honey. Adams Media. ISBN 1-4405-0201-3.
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