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Mary Guiberson escaped from her violently abusive husband 14 years ago. All she had were the clothes on her back.
"I was totally financially dependent on him," says Guiberson. "I had no information about shelters and no idea of where to go."
It took Guiberson three years of living on the street to find her way. The turning point came when she landed at Compass Cascade Women's Program in Seattle. "The program empowered me--it gave me a room, a voice and a community of incredible support."
Thanks to self-empowerment, support, access to resources and years of hard work, Guiberson got her Master's degree and now runs a women's shelter in Seattle.
"Victims need to reach out to a domestic violence agency right away and do safety planning," advises Guiberson. "Agencies will work with you to get the resources and support you need, even if you choose to stay."
According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and other domestic-abuse authorities, research indicates that a lack of financial resources is one of the most commonly given reasons domestic violence victims stay or return to an abusive partner.
This problem escalates during economic downturns when stress levels increase and housing and job resources decrease.
Findings from a 2009 survey conducted by Mary Kay Inc. revealed that domestic violence shelters nationwide report an increase in requests for assistance from domestic violence victims. Survey respondents attribute the rise in reported domestic violence cases involving women to financial issues, stress and job loss.
It's a struggle, but many victims do find a way out. "Getting information is huge," stresses Guiberson, "because there are resources and support out there no matter how dire your situation."
The Money Connection
In addition to physical, psychological, sexual and emotional abuse, economic abuse often is part of a pattern of coercive tactics that an abuser uses to control an intimate partner.
"The financial aspect is a huge barrier to leaving," says Megan Kovacs, community outreach coordinator for Raphael House in Portland, Ore. "A lot of survivors are lacking money, a car, housing, a credit or job history, a resume and job skills.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), "Economic self-sufficiency is frequently the difference between violence and safety for many victims."
Time and time again, Kelly Starr, communications project coordinator for Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, hears victims say, "I don't have resources or a realistic way to support myself." Starr explains that one of the main reasons victims stay with or go back to their abusers is that they can't provide for themselves. "It is one of the biggest challenges and barriers for survivor safety."
Starr adds, "Financial stress doesn't turn someone into an abuser, but it can lead to more frequent and serious abuse for the partner."
Wherever you live, call 911 for help if you need immediate assistance or have already been hurt.
You can call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or dial 2-1-1 for support and referrals to services in your local area. You can also call your state's domestic-abuse hotline. Hotline personnel can refer you to a local agency or advocate to help you secure personal and financial safety.
"If someone is ready to leave and the only thing holding them back is money, there are a wide range of resources available," notes Kovacs. "Domestic violence advocates do everything they can to help people find what they need to be safe and to start a new life if they decide not to return home."
Economic empowerment is a new effort and approach to helping victims through a major change in their lives, says Judy Kasten Bell, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Council.
The NCADV has a financial education project that helps victims of domestic violence get on the path to financial freedom. You can download a free copy of their "Hope & Power for Your Personal Finances: A Rebuilding Guide Following Domestic Violence."
"Many programs are adding economic empowerment advocates to help people move from chaos to making a plan for becoming self-reliant," says Kasten Bell. "They help victims navigate the system and figure out if they are eligible for unemployment or food stamps, what their income is, if their current employer can relocate them, and more."
Kasten Bell says that more victims need to know that they do have resources and advocates in the community to turn to for housing, child care, counseling, job training, financial planning and other services.
"We are all on the frontline in addressing domestic violence," Starr says. "We all need to get informed and be aware of the range of services available for victims of domestic violence, so we can help a friend, family or co-worker if they confide in us."
Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence
Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual violence
Utah Domestic Violence Council
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
About the Author
Barbara Schuetze is a Portland, Ore., freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness topics. She has written for most of the major health systems in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and on the Web. She has been writing professionally since 1983.