By now, many of you may have read, or at least heard of, Stanford survivor Emily Doe’s letter of address to her rapist. In her letter, Emily (a pseudonym) vividly describes how her life had stalled for over a year following her assault, and how during that time she had become isolated, fearful and angry.
She had been unable to sleep in the dark, or to attend events alone; and she had even quit her job out of her struggle to juggle work with the demands of the trial.
Now, imagine experiencing Emily’s painful ordeal, for years, at the hands of a loved one… The simple thought of it can be unsettling and sobering. But, for many domestic abuse survivors, it is a powerful depiction of their daily reality.
Each year, in the U.S. alone, about 5.3 million adult women are victimized by an intimate partner. If the victim has a disability, the picture grows even bleaker. More than 70 percent of individuals with disabilities have reported abuse. It’s also important to mention that disabled women are 40 percent more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner than women without disabilities.
Domestic abuse in its varying forms — emotional, sexual, legal, verbal and financial/economic — affects all of us. Its survivors include our neighbors, friends, family members, teachers, as well as ourselves.
And, we pay the costs. In a given year, abuse cases in the U.S. can cost up to $6 billion in health care services and lost productivity from paid work. That’s $6 billion that could have been saved, with stronger prevention services for the occurrence/recurrence of domestic abuse.
Indeed, progress has been made in domestic abuse awareness campaigns, legislation, and crisis interventions for the prevention of abuse. But gaps in services still exist, driven by an apparent mismatch between services and needs.
When was the last time, for example, you heard of a strong evidence-based financial program as part of the recovery process for domestic abuse survivors? For disabled abuse survivors?
To be sure, national and local players, like Allstate Foundation, Sanctuary for Families and the Financial Clinic, among others, have been making strides in this area. But for every financial service, you will find many more non-financial services.
Why are financial services needed in the abuse recovery and prevention process?
Almost all (about 98 percent) domestic violence cases in the U.S. involve some form of financial abuse, in which abusers may restrict, control, limit, or gain access to a victim’s financial resources. Lack of financial knowledge and resources, moreover, is a leading reason that individuals stay in or return to their abusive relationships.
Let’s not forget that domestic abuse is also a leading cause of homelessness.
Beyond the data, every survivor I have personally worked with in a shelter, regardless of her background, has endured financial abuse. These survivors have had their credits destroyed, money stolen, and financial awareness stripped away by their abusers. And after arriving in the shelter, they had to deal with the hard task of rebuilding themselves, emotionally and financially.
Clearly, there is a pressing need for financial services designed for domestic abuse survivors. Yet, few such services exist.
Shine Foundation, Inc. (“Shine”) is one of the few programs that strive to fill this gap in services and restore the match between services and needs. Operating in Baltimore and NYC, Shine is a nonprofit start-up that delivers customized financial workshops directly to survivors in domestic violence centers and shelters. Since its launch in 2014, Shine has assisted over 100 survivors in improving their financial skills.
Recently, Shine has partnered with Barrier Free Living in NYC to especially assist survivors with disabilities in setting and meeting their financial goals. Traditionally, many survivors at Barrier Free Living had expressed anxiety at the thought of budgeting.
Jamie, an immigrant with paralysis in both legs, was one example. Her financial abuse had left her unaware and anxious about managing money. Her life was in such a flux that she couldn’t even think about the next week. She also feared that employers would not hire her because of her disability, making her more reluctant to think about money.
During Shine’s weekly sessions, however, Jamie began to set actionable steps to achieve her goals of building her income. Step by step, she started to own her financial plan, as well as the positive changes in her self-perception and skills.
Then, there was Amy, a hearing-impaired survivor who also worked as a full-time accountant. Despite her comfort with numbers, her financial abuse had left her anxious to deal with her own personal finances, including with her damaged credit. During Shine’s sessions, Amy began to prioritize her spending in order to help build her financial comfort and ownership. This increase in financial comfort, in turn, will support Amy, as she manages her damaged credit.
Shine’s partnership with Barrier Free Living aims to equip more Jamies and Amys with the tools to become financially independent.
While it’s a good start, Shine is still just one service striving to narrow the current gap in financial services for abuse prevention and recovery. Greater political and fiscal support is needed to enhance such financial services for survivors.
Moreover, the financial improvement of survivors needs to be seen as part of, rather than separate from, crisis treatment. Just as Emily Doe had a strong, diverse community of support throughout her ordeal, we need to provide domestic abuse survivors — both with and without disabilities — with a similar network, inclusive of financial services.
Only then can we begin to shape a different, sustainable reality for domestic abuse survivors.
Editor’s Note: Names of survivors have been changed to protect their privacy. Ms. Tan has also asked that her photo not be used. She, along with Shine Foundation, Inc. emphasize that domestic abuse affects both men as well as women.
Jennifer Tan, MBA, MPH, is the founder and president of Shine Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that aims to improve the financial health of homeless abuse survivors in NYC and Baltimore. Ms. Tan welcomes comments from readers.