99% of abusive relationships involve some form of financial abuse (Forbes). This may play out for survivors in many different ways and combinations of ways with varied levels of impact. Domestic violence can affect not only physical and mental health but leach into other aspects of victims’ lives, such as housing, education, career, and financial stability. The effect of these consequences on individual survivors is staggering, but they also have a tremendous societal impact as well.
Individual Economic Impacts
There are many ways an abuser can affect their victim’s financial stability:
Access to Money
Abuse is all about power and control. One of the most effective ways abusers can assert control is by restricting their victims’ finances and earning abilities. This may include not allowing access to bank accounts, scrutinizing spending, and insisting their victim doesn’t hold a job. With limited or no access to money and no way to earn any, victims find it next to impossible to leave their abusers and support themselves. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness, according to NNEDV, and the majority of homeless women have been victims of domestic and/or sexual violence.
Theft and Damaged Credit
Beyond controlling access to money, many abusers outright steal paychecks, savings, or public benefits belonging to their victims. Damaging or taking valuable personal property can also be a significant financial loss. Not only does this affect survivors’ ability to live independently from their abuser but it may impact their future plans. In addition to immediate fiscal difficulty, abusers’ actions may negatively affect victims’ credit with far-reaching implications for many years to come. Poor credit may result in inability to secure loans, housing, and even set up utilities. It can also influence education and job prospects.
“Domestic violence” is often correlated with physical violence, which can become an insurmountable financial problem in the form of medical bills. Depending on the severity of injuries, costs of emergency treatment, doctor visits, and ongoing therapy (physical or mental) can skyrocket. Furthermore, unforeseen conditions may appear down the road that are direct results of physical abuse suffered years before but did not manifest until later in life (Off the Floor). Children in the household, even if they are not direct victims of violence, can also suffer trauma that affects their physical and mental health and adds to the cost of the abuse. Forbes lists medical expenses as one of the top reasons Americans end up in debt and file for bankruptcy.
Domestic violence can affect career trajectories early on. Experiencing abuse while attempting to attain a degree or training for a job can cause victims to not perform as well as they are capable of or to not be able to complete their education. Lack of money or credit ruined by an abuser may prevent survivors from being able to pay for schooling. This impedes opportunities for higher paying positions that would allow them to support themselves. Even if victims are employed at a decent livable wage, abuse can severely affect their jobs, leading to lost work hours, decreased focus and productivity, and perhaps even being let go from their position. Abusers may harass victims at work and use or destroy company resources. All of these impacts can have consequences for the rest of victims’ careers, interrupting a climb up the corporate ladder or making it difficult to find new employment.
Reproductive coercion is when an abuser either tampers with or prevents the use of birth control in order to force their victims to become pregnant or forces them to abort a pregnancy. One may not immediately identify this form of abuse as a financial issue. Unplanned pregnancy, however, can disrupt or diminish the mother’s education or employment opportunities both during pregnancy and once a child is born. Children are costly to care for and may be an expense survivors can ill-afford.
Fees associated with the legal process of leaving an abusive partner can impact survivors’ financial situation. Beyond this, though, some survivors report being forced or pressured by their abusers into engaging in illegal activity. Legal consequences of being prosecuted for these crimes can be another source of fees or fines and have a negative impact on earning ability.
Resulting Build Up to Community Level
Any of these factors can be damaging to individual survivors’ finances. Multiple factors may be devastating. These specific difficulties compound to negatively affect society in general. Even on a smaller community level, domestic violence can spread to affect neighbors, colleagues, educators, caregivers, health care providers, and local police who interact with an abuser, victim, or anyone in their household. A volatile abuser can cause safety concerns for community members, may cause damage to community property, or disrupt workplaces with harassment or tampering with company resources. Taxpayer money funds police and medical response to domestic violence. Higher needs in the community can lead to higher costs for everyone.
At a national level, fewer workers or less productive workers can affect the economy. The CDC cites lost productivity from paid work as one of the three main contributing factors in the total cost of domestic violence to society. Governmental benefits such as unemployment, welfare, and even disability payments resulting from domestic violence related causes can be a direct monetary burden on a nation. Additional funding may be allocated to vital services assisting abuse victims such as shelters, transitional and low-income housing, food stamps, health care, childcare, child and family services, the foster care system, legal services, criminal justice, and advocacy programs. Some who are not able to access these services or qualify for benefits may find themselves homeless, a huge community problem, especially in urban areas.
Children who are exposed to domestic violence can suffer lasting consequences throughout life. Trauma can negatively affect their mental health leading to long-term financial burdens. A study at Case Western Reserve University found higher health care costs, higher crime rates, and lower productivity in adults who were exposed to abuse as children. The Nonprofit Partnership indicates higher levels of anger, hostility, disobedience, and withdrawal in children exposed to abuse and anxiety, sleep disorders, mental health, and behavior issues as they become adults. These snowball into more and greater societal impacts over time.
Running the Numbers
The Center for Disease Control has estimated lifetime economic costs of domestic violence for Americans. This includes expenses associated with medical services for intimate partner violence (IPV) related injuries, lost productivity from paid work, criminal justice, and other costs. It breaks out to a lifetime cost of $23,414 for men, $103,767 for women, and $3.6 trillion in total.
In 2018, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) surveyed 164 survivors from shelters, transitional housing, and domestic violence programs in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Questions focused on education, career, and overall economic security. A high percentage of respondents reported abuse negatively affected their finances, job opportunities, and life choices.
Among those who reported having their credit score harmed by an abuser, 66% said it prevented them from getting a loan, 63% said it prevented them from getting housing, 21% said it prevented them from getting a job, and 21% said it had another impact on their life, such as keeping them from returning to school or setting up utilities in their name.
Of the respondents whose work was disrupted, 70% were not able to have a job, 53% lost a job due to abuse, 49% missed one or more days of work due to abuse, 18% missed out on a promotion or raise, and 38% were prevented from other work opportunities.
Of respondents who stayed longer with or returned to abusers, 83% said the reason was that were that they were unable to support themselves and/or their children or that they had nowhere else to live. 50% could not afford childcare, 49% did not have access to affordable transportation, 38% said poor credit prevented them getting the resources they needed, 26% found it too difficult to get help from the justice and court systems, and 16% would have lost health insurance. Despite these obstacles, 91% reported they at least attempted to leave their abuser anyway and most incurred costs in the process.
The IWPR survey concludes that in order to establish safety and independence, survivors require a comprehensive set of services, which they often do not have access to. This highlights a two-fold economic consequence of domestic violence on society: the compound effect of the loss of workforce and productivity and the cost of running various programs and services to support survivors.
Everyone is Affected
While domestic violence may appear to be a private, personal issue, the economic consequences effect everyone. In order to understand the effects on society, one has to circle back to the individual level. Individuals are a part of the community in a synergistic bond. Individual efforts will affect society and sweeping societal changes can affect how individuals are impacted. Putting dollar signs on this issue helps everyone to grasp how each of us is affected, whether we have direct experience with abuse or not. Changes to government, corporate, and community policies and practices can not only help survivors but improve society as a whole and lessen the financial implications of this widespread yet intimate public health issue.
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