Working towards a single cause: Family Shelter and Grace Center partner to help victims recognize, escape financial abuse

Sierra Rains

The term ’financial abuse’ may at first sound unfamiliar to survivors of domestic violence — until they learn more of what it entails and it suddenly becomes all too familiar.

Financial abuse takes on many roles in an abusive relationship and often begins innocuously, but plays a role in almost 99% of domestic violence cases, according to the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse campaign.

After recognizing a need in the local community, the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma and the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma are working together to help survivors recognize and break free from financial abuse.

“As I’ve kind of been searching out other partnerships it had dawned on me that someone that I hadn’t spoken with was the Family Shelter,” said Grace Center Financial Literacy Coordinator Ellen Roberts. “We do actually have the specific curriculum targeted towards financial abuse, so it just seemed like a good fit.”

On the first Tuesday of each month Roberts will be visiting the Family Shelter during the first 30 minutes of their monthly support group meeting. The curriculum that Roberts will be teaching is titled “Moving Ahead: A Financial Empowerment Resource,” and stems from the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse campaign on financial abuse.

Through the partnership, Roberts will help Family Shelter clients understand what financial abuse is and teach them financial fundamentals, including mastering their credit, building financial foundations and creating budgeting strategies.

“I think it’s so important for our clients to have the confidence and that is a lot of financial information,” said Family Shelter Director Kathy Manning. “I mean, you need to know that you are able to rebuild your credit. There are so many things that you don’t realize that the financial piece plays a part in.”

Advocates at the Family Shelter will then further work with those individuals to help incorporate these skills into a safety plan and their eventual transition back into society — ideally ensuring that they are successful in finding housing and jobs.

In the past, Family Shelter advocates would work with survivors to create budgets. “But we feel like this partnership with somebody that is a professional and has more financial knowledge can assist our clients in increasing their confidence and managing their financial affairs where we might have struggled a little bit,” Manning said.

Many of the survivors the Family Shelter works with have never really had control over any of their money, Manning said. Therefore, they often have very poor credit and are not very familiar with balancing a checkbook or other financial resources.

Roberts visited the Family Shelter for the first session on Tuesday, Feb. 11 and said she received great feedback from the shelter’s clients. Most stated that they had never heard of financial abuse before, but as Roberts further discussed the topic the 99% statistic appeared to hold true.

“I can definitely say that with the group I spoke with the topic really resonated,” Roberts said. “Almost everyone had an example of a time where they felt like that had happened to them. Most survivors of domestic violence report being a victim of financial abuse when they are in that relationship.”

Financial abuse involves controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources, Roberts said. Abusive partners will use a variety of tactics, whether it’s preventing someone from working, preventing someone from accessing a bank account, controlling how their money is spent, withholding financial information, or not letting a partner be a part of financial decisions, among other things.

“As with any form of domestic violence, it’s usually going to start pretty subtlety and just increase over time,” Roberts said. “So that’s going to vary a lot from situation to situation — how quickly it escalates.”

Healthy financial relationships are about open communication, Manning said. Partners will sometimes disagree on things such as too much money being spent or how money is being spent, but being able to openly talk about financial resources is a healthy conversation. With financial abuse, there’s often an aspect of control, she said.

“Financial abuse can also be a precursor to other types of violence in relationships. Sometimes it could be seen as a red flag,” Manning said. “Most often physical violence isn’t the first thing that happens. So by recognizing some of these signs it could be a good indicator.”

Without access to money or knowledge of how to manage their money, it can be extremely difficult for survivors to leave an abusive relationship, Manning said. “A lot of survivors and victims, they just don’t have that because it’s been controlled the entire time.”

The first step in breaking free from financial abuse is being able to recognize it, Roberts said. And for those who have experienced financial abuse in the past, she said the curriculum will hopefully give them the tools they need to avoid becoming stuck in that cycle again.

“We had great feedback from the clients and so we actually began the beginning of this month and we’re going to continue on with that,” Manning said. “I truly believe that this program, our partnership, will play a powerful role in helping survivors recover from domestic violence.”